Category Archives: PETA

Fact-Checking The Fact-Checkers On Breed Specific Legislation – How Snopes Left Out Crucial Information

Standard
Fact-Checking The Fact-Checkers On Breed Specific Legislation – How Snopes Left Out Crucial Information

Written by:  Heather Clemenceau

You might not be aware that Snopes is one of the oldest websites around, and one of the original ways skeptics would meet online and discuss their skepticism way before social media existed. It ran on Usenet, which was rather like a hybrid of email and a web forum. Snopes is usually pretty reliable in its debunking so long as the writers are not called upon to make a determination about a website that is beyond their expertise or is highly nuanced. But they don’t always nail their arguments and they don’t get a pass just because they’re Snopes – they are not immune to being critiqued.

In October, Snopes author Brooke Binkowski disputed the effectiveness of Breed Specific Legislation in the US and Canada. Binkowski exhorted Snopes readers to accept that her “deep research” is the result of rational objective examination – something she vigorously defends on her professional Facebook page, yet it hardly begins with any sort of “null hypothesis” about BSL.  Her credibility in this particular piece of writing is called in question both by her use of source materials and her unfiltered admonishment of posters who disagree with her as “mentally ill” or “paranoid” on her Facebook page.  Ms. Binkowski relied heavily on the debunked pit bull propaganda mill, the National Canine Research Council and her conclusions are at odds with many other published studies.

Unpacking the Problems With the Snopes Article

1. The Use Of Questionable Sources Or Debunked Source Material

Ms. Binkowski didn’t expand her search or chose to ignore many other published studies in the US National Institute of Health database and elsewhere, and cited several source documents in her analysis that were later debunked.

Binkowski relied upon the work of the National Canine Research Council (NCRC), the same group referenced by the Ordre des médecins vétérinaire du Québec (OMVQ) when appealing Montreal’s BSL legislation earlier this year.

It was subsequently revealed by La Presse journalist Marie-Claude Malboeuf that five of the roughly 50 studies cited in the report by the OMVQ were financed by American pit bull lobbyists (the NCRC) and that the data they used was problematic. At the same time, the Order of Veterinarians listed four recent medical studies on the gravity of injuries suffered from dog attacks, but downplayed the role of pit bulls. La Presse reported that the OMVQ report also emphasized that shelters are concerned for “their structure and already precarious financial health” if the Montreal bylaw were to proceed. However, these concerns should never supercede those of public health.  Public policy is not always based solely on the frequency of an event.  For example, a recall of children’s car seats or faulty ignition switches in vehicles may be based in a small number of deaths over a years’ long period.

The 5-part La Presse investigation, now translated into English, also shows that the OMVQ report cited studies that gave the impression of being “scientific and objective” when in fact they had been funded by the not-at-all objective American pit bull lobby.  To get an expert opinion of the OVMQ report, Malboeuf gave it to McGill University professor emeritus Dr. Barry Pless, a professor of Paediatrics, Epidemiology, and Biostatistics, and the Director of the Injury Prevention Program at Montreal Children’s Hospital among other achievements.  Said Pless“doing studies that are primarily intended to prevent the adoption of laws, without declaring conflicts of interest, is the strategy employed by the gun lobby and the tobacco lobby.”

The Order’s President now says he recognizes those studies should have been excluded or properly nuanced.  The use of paid-for research by the OMVQ represents a lack of scientific rigeur and transparency on their part, and at worst, is a serious conflict of interest.

La Presse spells out the players of the American Pit Bull Lobby. They divide it into 5 levels and explain the often overlapping relationships:

Five Levels of the Pit Bull Lobby

  • Level 1: The financing source. Animal Farm Foundation (AFF), owned by Jane Berkey. The company’s motto is: “Securing equal treatment and opportunity for pit bull dogs.” AFF devotes itself entirely to fighting pit bull regulations. “After inheriting a fortune from her father, Jane Berkey, who also owns a literary agency, turned over at least $6 million to her group, $2.85 million in 2013, according to government records. She pays 9 employees (one of whom, the director, makes more than $100,000 a year) and finances numerous groups that share her philosophy,” La Presse reports.
  • Level 2: The researchers. “To produce studies, AFF bought a private research body in 2007. The acquisition was kept secret until the victims’ group Dogsbite discovered this during litigation. The National Canine Research Council (NCRC) was created by a veterinary technician, Karen Delise. Neither an academic researcher nor a veterinarian, she self proclaims as the ‘greatest national expert on deaths caused by dog bites,’” La Presse reports. NCRC co-authors and finances studies, like the ones cited by the OMVQ, which chiefly attempt to show pit bulls cannot be identified.
  • Level 3: Publication. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (JAVMA). “The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) publishes NCRC studies in its journal. On its own website it proposes sample letters [for readers to write] contesting any law aimed at pit bulls. Moreover, its site has a link to AFF,” La Presse reports. The journalist even points out the AVMA’s notice on the embargoed 2000 fatal dog attack study, which falsely and fraudulently states: “In contrast to what has been reported in the news media, the data contained within this report CANNOT be used to infer any breed-specific risk for dog bite fatalities.”
  • Level 4: The political lobby. Best Friends Animal Society. Their senior legislative analyst, Ledy VanKavage, drafts state-level bills to eliminate local pit bull ordinances (state preemption laws) and is also a board member of AFF. VanKavage boasts on Best Friends’ corporate website that she commissioned an ex-economist from the tobacco industry, John Dunham, to create a fiscal calculator designed to advise governments on the cost of breed banning. Dunham’s sham BSL calculator, financed by the NCRC, over exaggerates these costs by nearly two orders of magnitude.
  • Level 5: The distributors. The animal care industry. “All the lobby studies are abundantly distributed by animal-based companies like shelters, breeders, trainers, etc. In Montreal, they are [distributed] by, amongst others, the SPCA, whose mission is to avoid euthanizing dogs and whose two most senior executives are themselves owners of pit bulls,” states La Presse. “On social media, pit bull owners deploy these studies relentlessly and accuse all their opponents of ignorance,” La Presse reports. More aggressive ones have even threatened the mayor of Québec City with death.

The methodology and conclusions behind the NCRC’s study “Preventable Factors Associated with Dog Bite-Related Fatalities” was also called into question by two members of the Department of Comparative Pathobiology at Purdue University, in a letter to the editor of the AVMA journals, published July 1, 2014:

“For instance, where the NCRC clearly knew what breeds were involved, they did not disclose same.  They also classified dogs as “resident” or “family” dogs without explaining what that meant.  They did not state how much time a dog had to be kept outside in order for it to be considered a “resident” dog. How was it possible for the researchers to determine, by any means, what the dog’s status was? The assumption is that when the NCRC knew what breeds were involved in fatalities they simply declined to disclose that information, and invented new characterizations (resident vs family dog) in an attempt to further confound the findings and minimize the number of fatalities caused by dogs that were actually determined to be “pit bulls.”

The NCRC reported that “Most DBRFs were characterized by coincident, preventable factors; breed was not one of these.”  Since their report provided no data to support the conclusion, the Purdue University professors questioned the findings of the NCRC report since it conflicted with other studies that showed a correlation between the passage of BSL and a reduction in dog bite injuries. The Purdue professors were also not fooled by the statement that “dog bite-fatalities are exceedingly rare” either.

At several points in the NCRC narrative it is reiterated that child safety education and practices were one of the key factors in preventing dog bites.  There is no doubt that this is an important consideration for parents, and there is really no downside to educational efforts. But a study in the Cochrane Report on the effect of the role of education in preventing dog bite injuries in children and adolescents concluded that, due to a lack of evidence, education should not be the only public health strategy to reduce dog bites and their dramatic consequences.  (The Cochrane Report articles combine the results of research papers, while pointing out weaknesses in experimental design or quality – very useful for contradicting the standard pseudoscience retort. The Cochrane Report gives weight to properly designed studies and less to weaker ones.)

The naming of the “National Canine Research Council” itself may also be an attempt to capitalize on the legitimacy of the National Research Council, an American non-profit NGO that shapes policies, informs public opinion, and advances the pursuit of science.  Capitalizing on the name association with other more established groups appears to be standard operating procedure for the NCRC,  who also  purchased (or had purchased on their behalf) the top-level domain “dogsbite.com” for $11,000 to try to capture some of the bandwidth of the legitimate group Dogsbite.org.   (Dogsbite.com redirects to the website of the NCRC and this “cybersquatting” resulted in a domain name dispute) Both DNASalePrice and NameBio confirm this spend.  Why would self-described professional “think tank” researchers have a need  to cybersquat on an established internet domain?  Can they not generate enough traffic to their website through the legitimacy of their own “research?”

 

2. Omission Of Studies That Support BSL And Implicate Pit Bull Phenotypes In Serious Dog Attacks

A review of the Pubmed database provides the following evidence-based studies that suggest that a majority of dog bite hospitalizations are attributed to pit bull phenotypes, often after analyses of decades worth of data.  Had Ms. Binkowski included these in her analysis, I believe she would have been compelled to revisit her conclusion in Snopes:

Effectiveness of breed-specific legislation in decreasing the incidence of dog-bite injury hospitalisations in people in the Canadian province of Manitoba

Ocular Trauma From Dog Bites: Characterization, Associations, and Treatment Patterns at a Regional Level I Trauma Center Over 11 Years

Morbidity of pediatric dog bites: A case series at a level one pediatric trauma center

Breeds of dogs involved in fatal human attacks in the United States between 1979 and 1998

Fatal dog attacks, 1989-1994

Dog bite-related fatalities: a 15 year review of Kentucky Medical Examiner cases

Fatal dog attacks in Canada, 1990 – 2007  (Includes references to bite incidents that immediately preceded the implementation of BSL in Ontario)

Mortality,  Mauling,  and Maiming by Vicious Dogs

Dog Bites in Urban Children

Dog Bites of the Head and Neck

Effectiveness of breed-specific legislation in decreasing the incidence of dog bite injury

Periorbital trauma from pit bull terrier attacks

Characteristics of 1616 Consecutive Dog Bite Injuries at a Single Institution

I can’t explain why articles and studies that favoured pit bulls featured so predominantly in Ms. Binkowski’s research, but somehow she did not locate or decided not to include information freely available using  in-depth knowledge tools for reporters, such as Google Scholar, Microsoft Academic Search, the Pubmed open-access library, Social Science Research Network, or the Cochrane Report.  Unless of course she intended to come up with an hypothesis and then set to work proving it right.  But without confirmation bias, many theories would fall apart.

 

3.  Failure To Distinguish Between Dog Bites Vs. Maulings

Ms. Binkowski is not the first reporter/journalist to fail to make a distinction between a dog bite and a mauling. While a bite by the oft-mentioned scapegoat the chihuahua may require stitches, a bite from a pit bull type dog will more than likely require that, plus plastic reconstructive surgery or oral/maxillofacial surgery in order to make the victim “whole” again. Most dogs respect protocols in behaviour when they fight, which includes a lot of posturing and growling, and usually very little biting – if there is biting most dogs practice bite inhibition – they bite once and then release, possibly not even puncturing the skin, retreating to protect themselves. There is almost never a fight to the death between most breeds of dogs.

Reducing dog bites overall is not something that BSL or the Dog Owners Liability Act in Ontario has ever set out to accomplish, indeed, it would be impossible.  No law that seeks to protect the public can ever eliminate all risks.  The aims of the DOLA were to reduce serious maulings and fatalities by banning or muzzling the breeds statistically most likely to be responsible. But any law that is enforced will be effective and mandatory muzzling, required in Ontario for pit bull phenotypes, would have prevented the following recent attacks if only it were consistently observed and applied:

A dog was shot dead by police after it grabbed a child by the throat and inflicted several bites during an attack (May 2016)

Two dogs were shot and killed after they attacked a man and woman in Ottawa’s east end. “The dogs were going in, they were biting, they were shaking the person. The person on the ground was very bloodied…[The dogs] were just relentless,” (August 2016)

Toronto Police shot and killed a pit bull “when it attacked a shih tzu and held the small dog down with a “locked-jaw grip,” police said. The policeman was hitting the dog so hard with his baton that it flung out of his hands but the pit bull would not let go. Police shot the dog twice in the leg and when it still didn’t release the shih tzu, they shot it in the head.” (September 2014)

 

4. Accusations That BSL Is Really A Form Of Covert Racism

pit-bull-lovers-quotes

Some of the most offensive and racially-derived posts come from pit bull aficionados themselves. Repeated references are often made to minorities as being comparable to dogs, as if the pit bull advocacy movement really believes their challenges are comparable to that of minority groups. At the same time, they often diminish or mock dog bite victims. Source 1 – https://heatherclemenceau.files.wordpress.com/2016/11/shana-expresses-her-disgust. and Source 2 – https://heatherclemenceau.files.wordpress.com/2016/11/jacqueline-tries-to-help.jpg

Binkowski mentions “racial parameters” in dogs when what she really means are morphological characteristics (because there are no races of dogs).  For a long time now, the pit bull advocacy movement has attempted to parlay BSL and discernment towards pit bull dogs as “canine racism” or overt racism.  With the Snopes article and a recent Washington Post article that echoed that theme, they’ve now carried that forward and attempted to show that BSL has been implemented to keep “undesireables” at bay. The cries of “racism” are further evidence that the pit bull advocacy movement are desperate to shift the blame for BSL on the cities or towns who express objections to bully breeds.  The goal is to further the cause of pit bulls as a social justice issue (while simultaneously ignoring victim issues).  Accusations of racism are intended to shame and squelch dissent and reasonable debate.

Looking into the data on breed bans turns up an interesting finding: each region that has enacted breed-specific legislation of some sort appears to have also experienced significant, if not dramatic demographic changes over a relatively short period of time.”  ~ Brooke Binkowski

The most recent available online Statscan report (2011) reveals that 6,264,800 people identified themselves as a member of a visible minority group in Canada. They represented 19.1% of the total

Fifth wave immigration since the 1970s has changed from the european demographic to that of visible minorities from the developing world. This was largely influenced in 1976 when the Immigration Act was revised and this continued to be official government policy. There was no sudden and singular immigration policy or event that triggered Ontario's 2005 Dog Owner's Liability Act as is suggested in the Snopes article.

Fifth wave immigration since the 1970s has changed from the European demographic to that of visible minorities from the developing world. This was largely influenced in 1976 when the Immigration Act was revised and this continued to be official government policy. There was no sudden and singular immigration policy or event that triggered Ontario’s 2005 Dog Owner’s Liability Act as is suggested in the Snopes article.

population. Of these visible minorities, 30.9% were born in Canada and 65.1% were born outside the country and came to live in Canada as immigrants. The vast majority of the foreign-born population lived in Ontario, British Columbia, Quebec, and Alberta.  Since the 1960s, our immigration has steadily increased, but there is no single event that can accurately be described as a “significant, if not dramatic demographic change.”  Creating BSL as a means to racially oppress 20% of the Canadian population, only some of whom might actually own a pit bull type dog, is just laughable. Binkowski no doubt assumed that the overt racism seen across mainstream America during the current electoral process could also be (mis)applied to Canada with broad strokes.

The real reason for implementing BSL in Ontario was due to a number of serious bites immediately preceding 2005 (the year it became effective). Dog attacks were also the reason the First Nations community of Membertou in Cape Breton implemented a pit bull ban immediately after a pit bull attacked an elder and her grandchild, which coincided with “several other instances of close calls.”

From the Ontario Dog Owners’ Liability Act:

In nonfatal aggressive incidents, the pit bull did rank highest in 2000 and 2001 (2.84 bite incidents per 100 licensed dogs of this breed type) in 1 Canadian municipality (Edmonton, Alberta). Other breeds that followed in this municipality included the rottweiler (1.60 bite incidents per 100 licensed), Akita (1.52), mastiff (1.47), Dalmatian (1.40), and Great Dane (1.21).”

In 2004, the last full year before the ban, there were 984 licensed pit bulls in Toronto and 168 reported bites. In 2013 there were 501 pit bulls registered in the city, and just 13 bites, according to a Toronto Star investigation.

The Ottawa Citizen has reported that:

“Most of the dogs Ottawa bylaw officers have sought to have destroyed as dangerous have been pit bulls, according to statistics released by the city. The city has initiated 10 prosecutions against owners who allegedly let their dogs bite another person or pet since the Ontario Dog Owners’ Liability Act was passed in 2005. Seven of the dogs were pit bull types.”

 

5. Snopes Conclusion At-Odds With Competing Debunkers

politifact-imageFinally, Binkowski’s conclusion about BSL is at odds with that of rival fact-checking website Politifact, who found the statement that pit bulls were inordinantly dangerous to be “mostly true.”

“The past studies and research we’ve reviewed shows pit bulls are among the most aggressive dogs. Some breeds, however, have been shown to be more aggressive in each report.  However, the widely held perception is that they are dangerous, which was Boyer’s over-arching point. An Associated Press poll done in October found of the dog owners who would support breed bans, 85 percent would outlaw pit bulls.”

6.  Snopes Conclusion Not Researched In Accordance With The International Fact-Checking Network Declaration It Signed

Snopes,  as a signatory, clearly did not use the same standard of care for this article as they normally do  for every other fact check. There is a built-in bias if the writer of the article does indeed own a pit bull as has been suggested on social media sites – is this Binkowski posting about pit bulls on Live Journal in 2012?  If so,  it’s very illustrative of a pre-existing bias. Snopes needs to follow the code and recall this article.

 

Summation

It’s very tiring to read of shady attempts to distort the facts. Common sense would tell you that bans on breed restrictions have everything to do with the safety of the public at large and nothing to do with the race, class and ethnicity of the people who own those dogs since the law is applied to everyone.   It is also morally bereft to claim that it’s OK to patch up people after-the-fact when an attack has a chance to be prevented in the first place. Making a person “whole” again after an attack isn’t nearly as positive as preventing the attack altogether. BSL cannot prevent all dog attacks but it is designed to prevent the worst sort of maulings by dogs with the greatest propensity to commit them.

Binkowski cites the Federation of Veterinarians of Europe, the American Bar Association, AVMA,  HSUS, the ASPCA, and the Toronto Humane Society, among other lesser known references and publications.  In addition to those aforementioned groups, Best Friends, the AKC, Bad Rap, Pit Bull Rescue Central, and various other Humane Societies are all lobbying partners of professional pit bull advocacy.

The American Veterinary Medical Association is a professional group; sometimes its journal publishes articles with scientific intent. Other times it publishes articles that are intended to protect financial interests of its members — and in those cases, its “peer review” is done by hand-picked “peers” who will reject anything that doesn’t support a purely political position the AVMA or other self-interested groups are protecting.  None of these groups or the NCRC/Animal Farm Foundation are qualified to comment on the effectiveness of BSL or the impact to society of dog bites, which are a public health issue and are the purview of epidemiologists and those holding Masters of Public Health degrees or similar educational achievements.

Perhaps non-science writers can be forgiven for not understanding what constitutes a scientific study or the “peer review” process and what a “peer-reviewed journal” is. There are plenty of impartial, scientific journals out there, whose peer review process is to guard scientific integrity. However, there are also as many journals founded and funded by an industry or a professional group, whose peer-review is intended to protect the interests of that industry or group.

 

Still, Snopes is pretty accurate and I’ll continue to rely on them for myths, email rumours, and urban legends.  Snopes’ accuracy is not a foregone conclusion with more complex issues such as the efficacy of BSL or vaccine conspiracies (they recently declared that Presidential candidate Dr. Jill Stein was not an anti-vaxxer, but I believe that the truth is less obvious).  Journalists should examine the full scope of the available evidence, whether they agree with it or not.  Avoiding biases in journalism is an important component of rationalism.  Merely repeating the propaganda does not challenge views or compel people to face facts.

 

 

Advertisements

Smartphone Apps Enable Consumers To Shop Cruelty-Free (And Bite-Back At Companies That Test On Animals)

Standard

ad4Written by:  Heather Clemenceau

Despite available alternatives, millions of animals are subjected to cruel and unnecessary experiments for cosmetics. In Canada, although the law requires that animals be used for medical testing, animals are not required for cosmetics testing. The Food and Drugs Act, the Cosmetic Regulations Act, and the Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act and Regulations are all federal laws that relate to cosmetics testing. However, none of the Acts stipulate that animal testing is a requirement.

The information that has historically been gained from animal tests is increasingly being replaced with quicker, cheaper and more reliable non-animal methods. Many of the animal tests used to test cosmetics ingredients have now been replaced or are in development. The TTC approach (Threshold of Toxicological Concern) can be safely used to show that testing is not necessary for many ingredients, due to the low exposure of consumers to individual cosmetic ingredients.

Even though animal testing is not required, and despite the fact that alternatives to testing exist, many companies continue with the practice,  usually for product liability reasons. Even products that are simply labeled as “not tested on animals” or “cruelty-free” may have been tested by other companies, at the ingredient level or at certain stages of development making it confusing and frustrating for individuals who are trying to make compassionate choices.

The Leaping Bunny logo is synonymous with truly cruelty-free products. 15 years after this certification process began, there are additional tools to help consumers locate cruelty-free products – supporting companies who have pledged not to test on animals and penalizing companies that still do.cruelty free logo There are two primary apps available for smartphones, on both GooglePlay and iTunes. PeTA also has an app that’s only offered for iPhones.

 

If you’re looking for a free app, you can try the Cruelty-Free app from Symbiotic Software LLC.  This app is published by the Coalition for Consumer Information on Cosmetics’ (CCIC) Leaping Bunny Program, and the shopping guide lists over 200 U.S. and Canadian companies that do not test ingredients, formulations, or finished products on animals. The Leaping Bunny Program certifies that no new animal testing is used, so you can be confident about your cruelty-free choices.

Cruelty-Free App – Pros

  • Free
  • Simple to use
  • Regularly updated
  • Large database of products
  • US and Canadian based
  • Doesn’t require access to other programs or settings on phone
  • Established reputation – published by Coalition for Consumer Information on Cosmetics

Cruelty-Free App – Cons

  • Requires lots of scrolling through a lengthy list
  • No way to interact with companies that are not cruelty-free
  • May be confusing to locate parent companies
  • I found an established vegetarian, cruelty-free company (Lush Cosmetics) that was not in the database
  • Activists cannot play a direct role in updating the product database
  • If you declined to purchase a product because it wasn’t cruelty-free,  the company would never know why

Cruelty Cutter LogoCruelty-Cutter is also available from the Beagle Freedom Project. This app offers a feature that other apps don’t – the ability to scan a product’s bar code and receive a near-immediate confirmation on the cruelty-free status of the items. Cruelty-Cutter advertises that they have every company in the “Leaping Bunny” and PeTA lists and thousands more. This is really an activist’s app. You have the option of tweeting the results of your scan with a positive endorsement of the (cruelty-free) product or “biting-back” at the company whose product does not meet the requirements, with a direct message to their Twitter account. This is a way to show companies that people are not interested in supporting those that continue to test on animals when it is not needed.

Cruelty-Cutter App – Pros

  • Allows you to interact with companies via Twitter
  • Easy to use – scan bar codes instead of scrolling through alphabetical lists
  • Vigilant consumers make the product better
  • Instant gratification – when you tweet the results of your scan,  you feel like you have made an impact

Cruelty-Cutter App – Cons

  • Not free – nominal purchase fee
  • Requires a Twitter account to use the full features of the app
  • Although the developer touts it at the most up-to-date cruelty-free app on the market, it still didn’t have quite a few products I scanned in its database. Strangely, Lush cosmetics, known to be vegetarian and cruelty-free, was missing.
  • Sending emails to the Beagle Freedom Project to investigate the status of products not in their database requires a few extra seconds to fill in the name of the product. If you’re impatient, you might not be willing to take this extra step.
  • Excessive scanning of products may mean that you are mistaken for an inventory control clerk!

Here’s three of several items I scanned at home,  along with the corresponding Tweets generated by the Cruelty-Cutter app:

 

 

 

Slippery Is The Slope: A Reader And I Debate The Ethics of Horseback Riding

Standard

dressageOnce in a while I get a response to a blog post that really merits its own stand-alone blog. Lauren sent me a response to my blog addressing the ethics of horseback riding, and while she doesn’t agree with my conclusion, I think she raises some interesting points and introduces several new arguments. So I wanted to present her post, which she took a lot of time to compose, along with my rebuttal arguments.

LAUREN’S POST:

“This is long so please bare with me:

Hi Heather, my name is Lauren and I came across your blog post today while doing some research. I am a soon-to-be graduate of Purdue University, am a vegetarian for multiple reasons, and rode horses for 15 years before changing my entire viewpoint on riding.

I have ridden in both English and Western disciplines and was once a rated member of the United States Pony Club. I have raced barrels, hacked Saddlebreds, ridden in Western pleasure classes, ridden trails, competed in dressage, and jumped cross-country. I have probably ridden over 100 horses (I am not joking) from ponies to ex-racehorses. I have also had many different riding instructors over the years including so-called professional riders. I used to attend the Rolex Three Day event in Kentucky every Spring and thought that somehow my poor (seriously) self would find an opportunity to become a professional eventer with some off-the-track-Thoroughbred I’d bought for $300. Then one day I literally walked away from it all and I have not looked back since.

Eventing extremes

The cross country portion of the “triathlon” is the most extreme equestrian sport, pushing horses and riders often beyond their physical and mental limits.

Last September, I saw an article pop up on my Facebook about the organizers of a three day event changing part of a cross-country course half way through the order-of-go. Apparently many of the horses and riders had been having problems at particular jumps due to poor weather conditions. So I posted the article to my feed with a statement that this was unfair because most of the professional riders at the event were at the end of the running order and would now be riding a different if not easier course than the novice riders that went before them. I got some backlash from fellow riders who said the organizers were correct to look out for the “safety” of the other riders once they realized there were too many problems. I insisted that this still wasn’t fair because the riders at the end were more experienced and should know how to “handle” the poor conditions. Still, there were arguments that this change of course was proper for safety. A little angered, this time I pointed out that the whole sport of eventing is dangerous and horses can die. They do die. I was at Rolex just across the field in 2008 when Lainey Ashker’s Frodo Baggins went down over the now-infamous Flower Basket jump. Horses die in this sport all the time and yet we never once ask the horse if he’d rather not go out there and risk his neck for it.

Britain Grand National Jumps Racing

Jumps Racing is obviously reckless with multiple horse and rider fatalities every year.

So I began to think about this some more. I’m no physicist, but I realized that any time a mistake is made at a jump it is always the rider’s fault. This is due to the fact that the horse is in no way “designed” to carry a rider (living organisms do not have a defined purpose and neither do their parts; see Diamond v. Chakrabarty which alludes to this legally, and check out the NIH’s stance on this). Any minimal shift in the rider’s weight (which is going to happen), shift of the tack (which is also going to happen) or otherwise (a random act of nature, i.e. shifting of wind or terrain) can and will throw the horse off-balance. In addition, any perceived “wrong” move taken by the horse in response to the shifting of his balance or active response to shifts in the rider’s weight are often punished by use of the crop and/or spurs. Typically, what the horse is really doing is making an active judgment of the situation to account for rider error (i.e. the shifting of the rider’s weight). Again, I don’t have science to back me up here, but I would hypothesize that the movement the horse would make on a cross-country course, such as an approach to a jump, would almost always be different from the movements made by the horse with a rider on its back. To complete the example, if you have a horse and rider approach a jump and he suddenly refuses or lunges to the side to go around the jump, he has made a judgment call that he could not safely make the effort without injuring himself. And for this the horse often receives a whack with the whip, a jab of the rider’s spurs, and/or a nasty yank of the reins. The horse made an effort to protect himself – to survive – and he received punishment.

I don’t believe any horse on this planet would go out and run an XC course of his own accord in the absence of a rider. Horses can certainly jump, but I would like to think that they do so out of necessity rather than finding joy in it (I’m not talking about a horse jumping a random log in the middle of the field on his gallop back to the barn for evening chow, which is still technically necessity anyway – jumping the log might be the fastest way to the barn). I know horses a little bit and I had ridden them for many years – I just don’t think they would jump an entire cross-country course without the guidance of a rider for what humans call “fun.”

bounding out of the gate

An average of 24 racehorse deaths every year in the US – approximately 2,000 horses break-down and have to be vanned-off at tracks.

Further, if these event riders have such great partnerships with their horses, why exactly do they need whips, spurs, and/or bits? Some go “nice in a snaffle,” but I’ve seen gags, pelhams, and elevators on the cross-country horse, as well as different lengths of spurs on the rider’s boots and different types of crops in the rider’s hands. I have been to many upper level and lower level cross-country events and at least once I have seen a rider “get rough” with these “aids” in some manner. It isn’t acceptable. We could argue about “good” contact all day, but my question still stands: what are the spurs, whips/crops, and bits for if you have such a good partnership with your horse?

Why would you ever need those things to “communicate” “jump this massive fence at a gallop with me on your back?” Perhaps it’s because in the absence of these “aids” the horse would have a much easier time of saying “no” and there goes the “connection” between man and horse.

I watched the video and read the Tumblr entry you discussed in your post. Based on the definition of “vegan,” a person who follows this philosophy does not consume any animal products for any reason in any manner whether that is strictly for ethical, health, or other reasons. Hence, riding is not vegan because a human being would be taking something from the horse (energy, a place to sit, engaging the horse as a vehicle for transportation, etc.) and the horse rarely gets anything positive from the experience of being ridden. The viewpoint is clear and there isn’t anything inherently wrong with it either. If there is something inherently wrong with not riding a horse because it is unnecessary or unethical or whatever, please enlighten me.

I am not vegan and though I do not ride anymore for the reason that it is harmful to the horse’s well-being, believe me when I say I miss riding horses. I grew up riding and it is something that’s ingrained in my soul for better or for worse. But I have learned that to ride a horse is selfish on my part. I don’t need to ride a horse for any other reason than enjoyment. And when there is overwhelming research to show that riding can harm the horse physically, physiologically, emotionally, mentally, and/or psychologically what reason is there that justifies riding? I do not believe that the research snippets in the video are incorrect even if they may need some more fleshing-out and additional research.

I am vegetarian and I do not necessarily equate not eating meat with not riding. However, I think that equestrian competition is exploitation of the horse for human gain at the cost of prohibiting the horse from expressing free will to not participate (and not be punished for the refusal). Competition impacts the horse negatively in many respects and should not be supported. Absolutely any equestrian competition is harmful to the horse.

British Eventing Horsetrials

There should never be a situation where, if a fence is not ridden or jumped perfectly, the horse does a rotational fall.

Let me take your pet or dog ownership thoughts into account as well. So we say our animals love us, yeah? So same thing as above with the spurs, whips and bits on horses, why do we need leashes and collars for dogs? (I would concede that typically the leash and collar aren’t used in the same manner as the bit and spurs, but that they can be used with severity.) If humans had true partnerships with their dogs (and some do) then we shouldn’t need leashes or collars. When you get down to the bare minimum of the uses for the items used on a horse and the items used on a dog they are each used in a manner consistent with control of the animal. The leash and collar keep the dog from running off and the bit, whip and spurs force the horse to do our bidding when we get on his back.

Further, just because horses could carry 25% of their bodyweight on their back (by what study by the way?) does not mean it is designed to do so. Again, living beings are not designed for a purpose. Do you even know exactly why you exist on earth? I can’t even pretend to know that. Studies have also shown that when a horse bares a rider on its back for more than 15 minutes of work this can cause the horse immediate soft tissue damage and pain. If you know of a study that cleanly refutes this please post it. Please refer to the Nevzorov Haute Ecole’s website for information on the study I noted here.

While “going for a trail ride” hardly sounds like abuse, if the horse doesn’t have a choice in the matter then this doesn’t make it ok. Just because you don’t think you’re harming the horse does not mean that you aren’t. If you love and cherish your horse why would you take this risk?

In the “death to carnism” blog, the author does not advocate turning horses loose in the wild. The author states that this would be irresponsible. That is another discussion for another time as well.

You’re right about humans harming other animals no matter what considering the world we live in, but this is not a free pass to just hop on a horse and ride it. That’s a hypocritical point Cavalia Odysseo Horseof view. If you know you are harming the horse, why would you ride it? If you don’t know, you shouldn’t ride, and you should study-up.

Just because PETA thinks it’s ok to ride horses does not make it suddenly ok to do so. This organization has been discredited on many fronts for many different reasons. Take a look at this Huffington Post opinion piece from 2013 if you are certain you support them: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/nathan-j-winograd/peta-kills-puppies-kittens_b_2979220.html. (I am not saying they are entirely horrible because I really just don’t know. But I’m willing to bet since the Huffington Post still has this up on their website they haven’t lost a lawsuit on facts.)

Finally, if we humans must abide by “consent,” as in, “no, means no,” but we do not afford this to other animals for one reason or another than as humans we are taking a step backwards. No one being is superior to others – they all need to exist for this planet to be whole. In addition, though I am not a representative for Alexander Nevzorov’s Haute Ecole, I understand that while he did ride horses for a while he did so without the use of any restraint of the horse’s head. Since that time he has expressed that he feels riding is unethical altogether and does not teach riding or condone it. Instead he teaches a way to have a meaningful relationship with the horse on the ground without pain or force at all.”

Tack room for the lippizaners 2MY RESPONSE:

First I think we need to define what veganism is – the practice of abstaining from the use of animal products. Some vegans have taken to extending their philosophy in all manner of ways in which the originator cannot have foreseen.  I can’t imagine how we can consider the “energy” of a horse as a product of that animal unless that is what one understands to be covered by “ethical veganism.” Vegetarians on the other hand, still consume some animals products, including dairy, eggs, cheese, gelatin, honey, etc. I have to say honestly that I am baffled as to why taking “energy” from a horse seems to be so objectionable to you while consuming dairy or eggs is apparently less so. The demand for dairy has very tangible effects on the cows and calves in that industry, and chickens suffer immensely to produce eggs, much more easily measurable and quantifiable than any presumptive abuse to horses resulting  from conventional riding.

I do want to affirm a lot of what you’ve written about various horse sports being cruel or inhumane to horses. I do agree that the cross-country phase of eventing at both the international level or at Pony Club are highly dangerous, along with other “sports” such as racing, rodeo, chuckwagon races, jumps racing, and numerous cultural events are all either blatantly cruel to horses or stretch them beyond their reasonable capabilities. I wrote more about the broad abuses of horses in another blog post.  Cross-country courses challenge horses with drop fences, where the horse can’t anticipate that he has to leap straight down, and water jumps compel horses to jump then while not knowing the depth. Until recently, obstacles did not break-away, causing serious falls and injuries (if not death) to both horse and rider. Courses are, IMO far too long and even when horses are matched to an ideal course, they can only run and jump for so long before they are exhausted or injured. Any event where you have significantly less than 100% of the participants fail to complete a course is too strenuous and risky.

We know that not all high-level riders in all disciplines ride with empathy, as shown in the following video:

I don’t agree with you that whenever a mistake is made on a course it is rider’s error. Even a correctly balanced rider’s weight causes the horse to strain to overcome gravity. The horse needs greater impulsion to clear the weight over the fence, possibly over-extending himself on the other side of the jump. A tired horse builds up lactic acid in his muscles and is more likely to sustain injury. Horses can also dehydrate and tie-up even with the most competent riders. I did actually link to a study in the original blog post that concluded that healthy, fit horses could comfortably carry up to 25% of their body weight (saddle and rider) which supports my contention that horses are not physically compromised by the weight of most riders. The ability of an animal to lift weight (whether ant, cockroach, or horse) is determined by the relationship between surface area and body mass. Ants can also lift 50 times their own weight even though they might not need to. Obviously, other factors to consider in matching the horse to the sport are size and weight, condition, fitness, conformation, attitude, ability of a saddle to distribute weight properly, ability and weight of the rider, distance travelled while riding, type of terrain, and temperature/weather conditions.

lipizzaner in stall with marble basinWhips, spurs and bits are not automatically torturous. I don’t use spurs and I don’t think most riders do either.  I don’t use a whip except in driving where it must be carried in case the horse backs up into a hazard such as a car, child, or edge or a ravine. The driving whip is used to take the place of the leg aid and is used to signal that a bend is asked for or a change of direction is forthcoming. The floppy end of a driving whip taps the horse with the same pressure as flicking a shoelace on your arm. And if you’re going to have a bit there is a range that are considered good and humane by most riders and clinicians. I don’t believe that halters cause a horse any pain. Most higher level dressage riders use spurs subtly, but their use by less skilled riders is apt to be punitive or abusive.

You claim that there is overwhelming research that riding harms horses “physically, physiologically, emotionally, mentally, and/or psychologically?” You didn’t provide any evidence for this to prove your point. I have seen some vegan sites post a link to research that consisted of evaluating a horse’s back for Kissing Spine, otherwise known as impinging spinal processes in the back, which is largely congenital. One vegan blogger cited it as a condition she assumed was directly caused by riding. I tried to correct the assumption, but it seems she was too cowardly to moderate my post. Impinging spinal processes need to be evaluated to determine whether a horse can be ridden, and as you know, horses will absolutely tell you when they are in pain.

Humans are self-legislative, morally autonomous beings. It does not follow from this that we are morally free to do anything we please to animals. However, if we required permission from Cavalia carouselan animal to take any action on their behalf then we could not spay or neuter them, walk them on leashes for their own safety, nor could we anaesthetize them to clean their teeth, vaccinate them, keep them on leashes safe from traffic, trim their hooves, or euthanize them when terminally ill. If we choose not to do any of these things because we don’t have permission, then we’re missing the point of being ethical and compassionate human beings.

Alexander Nevzorov is simply another clinician, one who has attracted a cult following. Quite frankly, he makes my head explode. Because he has attracted extremists, he thrives in that environment and turns off people who are interested in his methods but not the extremist attitude. He and his followers won’t allow discussion of other methods. He is in favour of abolishing equine use (and equines) period. There are a number of other things that Nevzorov is also quite strident about that do not fit with my concept of good and ethical horse welfare. His videos depict all the worst aspects of riding that many horse people would like to abolish – racing, rollkur, over-horsed riders balancing themselves on the bit, sometimes with nervous, perhaps improperly trained horses, rodeo, etc. The videos imply that this is the norm.

Nevzorov and his wife are even opposed to improvements in horse sport because to them it means they won’t be able to abolish it as soon as they would like. This is rather comparable to being opposed to the discontinuation of gestation crates for pigs while waiting and hoping that people will stop eating meat. They are opposed to the use of the Dr. Cook bitless bridle. They also have no interest in rescuing horses, possibly since they feel that the sooner horses become extinct as a species, the better. They are opposed to any breeding of horses at all, which again means in their world the domesticated horse is an extinct horse.

You make the assumption that before he stopped riding horses he rode without confining the horse’s head with a bridle. This is not true. Nevzorov rode horses in the traditional manner with saddle and double bridle. There are numerous pictures of him on the web using traditional horse tack which often included whip and spurs. What most of his followers don’t know is that the horses you see him performing with were all trained traditionally under saddle and with a double bridle, whip, and spurs.   If he can accomplish the same level of training with a totally green horse and without resorting to any other methods but what he’s condoning now, I’d be impressed. While I agree with many of his statements about whips, harsh bits, rough handling, etc. he claims to have taught his horses to understand Latin (which is really a written rather than spoken language). This is crackpottery of the highest order.

Horse with RibbonsFew if any people will listen to him and quit riding horses to work exclusively in hand with them. No one will pay to board a horse only to walk it on a lead, thinking they can teach it Latin. No one is going to build an arena and house horses in it to watch them self-collect. Amazingly though, Nevzorov, his wife and their followers all believe that the equine industry would continue on and develop in the same way, but with non-ridden horses. He also claims that it is “legally acceptable to claim moral damage which is caused to children, who’s mental health is endangered while participating in “sport activities” which considers the cruel treatment of a living being to be normal.”

PeTA’s endorsement of horse riding is relevant since they are probably the most radical of the major animal rights/welfare groups (ASPCA/HSUS/MFA etc). Some of Nathan Winograd’s Huffington Post pieces have been shared over 100,000 times by many people who never question the veracity of his claims about PeTA. The “PeTA Kills Animals” phenomenon was a hoax perpetrated by the Center for Consumer Freedom, a deceitful outfit that protects the interests of animal enterprise industries. They created the hoax to mitigate PeTA’s impact on their meat and biomedical industry clients’ profit margins. Not so admirably, others have jumped on the “PeTA Kills Animals” bandwagon to mitigate that organization’s impact on their agendas. Nathan Winograd falls into this category. Rather than address head-on PeTA’s concerns about dangerous and ineffective “No Kill” initiatives, Winograd uses the “PeTA Kills Animals” meme to change the conversation. Unfortunately, for animals in many “No Kill” shelters and rescues, PeTA’s concerns that the “No Kill” movement is causing them harm appear to be valid.

Nezvorov

Alexander Nevzorov back in the day when he rode horses, using a bridle, dressage crop, and spurs.

The “Why PeTA Euthanizes” website has compiled detailed information on PeTA euthanization and exposes Nathan Winograd as someone who takes liberty with the truth. Indeed, Winograd spends far more time critiquing other animal welfare organizations than he does in promoting No Kill. It’s a fact that nearly every animal PeTA has euthanized was admitted into their care by their owner. Virginia (home of PeTA’s shelter) shelter stats are public information. PETA’s shelter reporting data is freely available online, despite Winograd’s classification of these records as “secret.” This shelter is one of last resort and they offer no-cost euthanasia in the impoverished area their shelter serves. This video, produced by PETA last year, goes into quite some detail about the animals they served in their shelter in 2013. Mary Tully, the curator of the “Why PeTA Euthanizes,” site, writes:

“The small, hands-on facility at PeTA’s Norfolk headquarters isn’t a traditional animal shelter, but by comparing it to one, PeTA’s detractors are able to make it seem like PeTA’s euthanasia “numbers” are very high and somehow very bad. PeTA’s shelter operates for the primary purpose of providing no-cost, humane, veterinarian-supervised, medical euthanasia to suffering community animals who require it. This service is offered on an emergency on-call basis only, and it’s not advertised in any way.

PeTA’s Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services animal reporting data and shelter inspection reports confirm that nearly every animal PeTA receives for euthanasia is received from his or her guardian for this service. There is no indication that these guardians aren’t acting in their animals’ best interests by requesting this service from PeTA’s shelter, or that it’s in any of their best interests not to be immediately euthanized.

Though Virginia veterinarians may offer the service of owner-requested euthanasia to the public, the fees are simply out of reach for many Hampton Roads citizens. The average cost of veterinarian-provided euthanasia in the area, as of this writing, is $25 per pound of animal body weight, not including additional costs for cremation services. Affordable Veterinarian Services of Virginia’s fees start at $295 for the procedure itself, with an additional fee of $132 for their cremation service.

Prince Harry excessive spur use

Polo is another extreme sport – here, Prince Harry draws blood with his spurs.

Virginia’s State Veterinarian, Dr. Dan Kovich, DVM, MPH, acknowledged the gap, during our recent interview. “There are several communities that are underserved by veterinarians, or don’t have access to a veterinarian at all,” Kovich stated. “Shelters that offer owner-requested euthanasia are providing a valuable service to the community,” he further explained.

Most of PeTA’s community work involves helping to improve the quality of life for outdoor dogs and keeping community animals who are in good homes, in those good homes. PeTA served over 6,000 outdoor dogs last year in ways that were meaningful to them. Because PeTA never takes custody of those animals, they aren’t accounted for in their state animal reporting data. Neither are the over 11,000 community animals PeTA spayed and neutered last year in their free and low-cost mobile clinics. PeTA served over 17,000 animals in 2013 who went on to have happy, healthy lives, but because they don’t appear on the animal reporting summaries, they’re unfairly absent from conversations about the work PeTA does.”

Winograd was so deceptive in his HuffPo articles on PeTA, that he was served with a Cease and Desist letter. Similarly, another Huff Po Blogger who wrote extensively and critically of PeTA, Douglas giant shire horsesAnthony Cooper, also acknowledges receiving a C&D. PeTA also took action against posters hiding behind anonymous profiles libelling them on HuffPo, which may have contributed to HuffPo’s decision to abandon anonymous commenting on their site in favour of the Facebook social plug-in. In short, there is little reliable information about PeTAs practices to be found on the Huffington Post at all.

So Lauren,  my belief is that one should ride lightly, cue as lightly as possible, less is more, and critical thinking needs to be employed when reading these articles. When people specialize in extremism, they expend massive energy in conflict with other groups who are quite close to their ethical position: they are fighting over the little things, and losing the battle against the rest of the world. This is true for both Nevzorov and Winograd. I don’t know about Nevzorov,  but try politely disagreeing with Winograd on his Facebook page and he will lecture and then ban you immediately.  That’s one reason Parelli and Rashid and other clinicians are so successful – we may not like all of their teachings but they preach to the middle of the roadists. Whoever captures the middle ground will have the greatest support base and opportunity to improve conditions for horses. The extreme groups are left to fight over the margins. Nevzorov and Winograd both have valid points, but I’m not interested in personality cults.

Cheers,  He@ther

It’s Not Horseback Riding – It’s Exploitation!

Standard
Royal Lippizaners

© Heather Clemenceau – taken in Toronto where the Lipizzaners were on tour.

Written by:  Heather Clemenceau

Last night I read the “Death to Carnism” blog on Tumblr – “Horseback Riding: Is it Vegan?” The main premise of the blog is that horses are cruelly treated and oppressed by riding,  a viewpoint I struggled to comprehend. The author is also adamant that animals should not be possessed by anyone who benefits from such ownership in ANY way, or if their presence in our lives gives us any sort of personal pleasure or happiness.   So obviously, I think the themes presented in the blog are spurious, because, even though I don’t eat meat, I can hardly equate riding horses with eating a factory-farmed animal. Nor do I believe that pet ownership (a legal construct) implies that we are guilty of imprisonment, commodification, oppression, or cruelty to animals. For someone so intensely passionate about treating animals well, the author of the blog seems to have no issue treating human beings like crap. I realize that some extremist vegans don’t think there is anything special about those who are blind or confined to a wheelchair, but it probably isn’t feasible for those people to hire humans to perform the same tasks that many animals perform. Or worse, go without a therapy animal altogether just because someone believed that the disabled person ought not to have derived any convenience from the pet.

The author also believes that horse owners should be persuaded to simply turn their companion horses loose as a means of liberating them from the confines of

Hapsburg eagles on the Lipizzaner bits

Hapsburg eagles on the Lipizzaner bits

enslavement. This ownership = enslavement meme is consistent with Rutgers University Professor Gary Francione’s extremist abolitionist movement, which does not justify the keeping of any domesticated animals or pets no matter how well they are treated. “Vegangelicals” such as the blog author mistakenly believe that horses (and by extension, household pets, therapy dogs, guide dogs or even goats used to maintain pastures and provide manure for the garden) are subjugated in a comparable manner to the confinement of farm, laboratory, marine, or circus animals.

Of course, activities that are too risky for horses (such as  abusive rodeos, chuckwagon races, and some other activities where the degree of risk is unacceptably high) should be eliminated or the welfare impacts minimized. Any invasive training or riding techniques that involve punishment or extreme control or chronic injury should certainly be avoided. Horse owners are always ethically responsible for all the activities and actions they conduct on horses, and  we must always be prepared to justify them ourselves.  Most horse activities, while they are primarily carried out for the “happiness” of horse owners, are non-injurious to horses.  Healthy horses can easily carry 25% of their own body weight or slightly more for shorter duration activities without negative effect.

Another issue for the top hat tip to Nicblog author is whether we can ever be justified in asking horses to do something they might not enjoy, or something they might enjoy less than standing in a paddock socializing with other horses. Most horses would choose to stand in a paddock eating grass with other horses because they are bound to other members of their herd. However, while asking a horse to carry us in for a lesson or trail ride might impose upon the horse for an hour or slightly longer, but it is hardly an example of abuse. Most horses have a pleasant, tractable nature about them and don’t begrudge us riding them at all. Asking a domesticated, trained horse to participate in an activity that is within the scope of its training and physical/mental ability is not abusive to the animal.

And by what stretch of arrogance can anyone believe that we should ever turn horses loose?  There are infinite examples of horses starving to death after being abandoned by uncaring owners. Abandonment of an animal is usually considered a criminal behaviour, and yet,  some followers of the “Carnism” blog were praising this as admirable – it’s not. The author clearly does not comprehend that wild horses are being systematically exterminated in their natural environments. Agencies in both the US and Canada consistently bungle efforts to manage the population of wild horses on public lands (that’s a nice way of saying how to cull them, which is a nice way of saying how to kill them). If one wants an example of inhumane treatment of wild horses, they need look no further than helicopter roundups and corralling horses into traps, often followed by slaughter not long thereafter.  And only a deluded person believes that companion dogs and cats (or other animals) used to being cared for as “oppressed” pets are better off being suddenly turned out to become strays.  One only has to look at the condition of former pets brought into shelters to know that they don’t usually thrive. Caring owners don’t abandon animals.

tack room for the lippizaners 4

The tack shown here (for the Lipizzaner stallions) is leather, but all horse tack is available in biothane, a synthetic. It is generally a rule in most show classes that you must use leather saddles, bridles and harnesses however.

I chose not to eat animal products out of a love for animals, passion for conservation, and concern for our diminishing global resources. Avoiding meat and other animal products seemed to be a kinder, gentler, and more ecological choice. Yet via direct experience, I’ve found that many vegans are quick to point out what they think are unjustifiable uses of companion animals while being unwilling to acknowledge that even their own meals include death. Growing fields of soy beans means removing habitat from thousands of wild animals, killing them through deforestation and loss of their home. Songbirds and insects are killed by pesticides. Fertilizers are often made from petroleum, and fields of tofu seeds are literally being sprayed with oil. If we’re not using oil to fertilize crops then we are using organic material: manure, blood, bone, and fish.  We exist,  and therefore it’s impossible to entirely avoid harming animals.

There are reasons why many potential vegans refuse to self-identify as vegan. Sadly, the movement has become more about angry rhetoric and less about common sense. Veganism should be an ideal and not a cult. If vegans proceed to lambast thoughtful and pragmatic people with the view that they cannot ride horses or own animals then they must also accept that their philosophical position will never appeal to people who have the motivation to live life without unnecessarily and intentionally harming animals. Most companion animals live extremely comfortable lives compared with factory-farmed or even wild animals. We must of course always treat animals in a manner that invokes respect.   The “Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness” was one clear expression of this consensus. That animals can consciously suffer needs no discussion.

Tack room for the lipizzaners

The Lipizzaner is the breed of horse most closely associated with the Spanish Riding School of Vienna, Austria, where they demonstrate the haute école or “high school” movements of classical dressage, including the highly controlled, stylized jumps and other movements known as the “airs above the ground – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lipizzan

Even PeTA is not opposed to horseback riding:

“When there is a respectful, loving bond between horse and human, then horseback riding can be as much an act of companionship and exercise as walking one’s dog. However, just as we oppose the use of choke collars on dogs, we also oppose the use of whips, spurs, and other devices that cause discomfort and pain to horses.

With domesticated horses, PETA supports humane, interactive training. Horses are not equipment and can suffer from the heat, humidity, and overexertion. Horses don’t enjoy constant work any more than a human being enjoys being forced to do manual labor all day long. Just as a dog can be housetrained in a positive manner, gentle methods can be employed to teach a horse to tolerate a rider on his or her back. PETA does not support training methods based on punishment.

We do not support keeping horses in isolation and believe that they are happiest when kept in social groups.”

 

 

Death In The Fast Lane: Reaction to PeTA Exposé

Standard

peta - horses aren't machines

Written by:  Heather Clemenceau

It used to be that phenylbutazone was what got a horse disqualified from a race. Dancer’s Image became the only winner in the Kentucky Derby’s 134-year history to be disqualified for using a banned substance, when bute was found in his urine sample after the race in 1968. Two years after Secretariat’s recordbreaking US Triple Crown took the sport to a new level of popularity, the breakdown and death of Ruffian brought on a new era of safety concerns.

Analysis of horse carcasses submitted to the CHRB Postmortem Program revealed that 40.9% of all fatal injuries occurred during racing and training in 3-4 year old racehorses. Injuries, unlike accidents, do not happen by chance. The science of injury prevention has demonstrated that injuries and the events leading up to injuries are not random. Like disease, they tend to follow a general pattern. Studying these patterns has made it possible to learn to predict and prevent injuries from occurring, Yet this type of knowledge is ignored when pitted against the profit incentive of racing.

PETA-Kentucky-Derby-3As a result, many fallen jockeys have found that their mounts eventually became wheelchairs after they were paralysed in falls by their horses or horses they were trailing who should have been scratched from races. In 1990, apprentice jockey Benny Narvaez was paralyzed from the chest down after his horse threw him while jumping over another horse who had broken down directly in front of him during a race at Tampa Bay Downs. A jury found that Tampa Bay Downs was responsible for Narvaez’s injury because the track veterinarian failed to perform an adequate pre-race examination on the horse he was trailing. That horse’s pre-existing conditions had been cloaked by drugs a few days before the race.

So the recent PeTA expose of trainers Steve Asmussen and Scott Blasi in the New York Times wasn’t all that surprising, except in how quickly it went viral and how many racing fans jumped into the fray to excoriate PeTA. This wasn’t just about anyone – these guys who are accused are at the top. Asmussen has built one of horse racing’s largest operations. He ranks second in career victories, with more than 6,700; has earned more than $214 million in purses. But now they are accused of subjecting their horses to cruel and injurious treatments, administering drugs to them for nontherapeutic purposes, and having one of their jockeys use an electrical device to shock horses into running faster. Asmussen and Blasi are also accused of employing undocumented workers, requiring them to use false names on Internal Revenue Service forms, producing false identification documents, according to the complaints filed with state and federal agencies. Asmussen also paid the PeTA investigator $5.95 an hour — less than minimum wage — and did not pay proper overtime wages, according to complaints filed with the labour departments of Kentucky and New York. In 2012 the Asmussen Horse Center dumped 10 of their bred mares at one of the biggest kill buyer auctions in Texas, so they hardly sound like an upstanding group of people.

Sport of Kings,  or exercise in controlled chaos?

Nehro, the horse in the surveillance video, was acknowledged to be in pain and needed to be retired, yet still he continued to train. On the morning of last year’s Kentucky Derby, Nehro got sick on the backside of Churchill Downs and later died from colic in a van on the way to the hospital. In all likelihood,  he may have had ulcers from excess medication with bute,  which may have contributed to his colic.  Blasi and the farrier spent so much time conspiring in that barn that they were unaware everything they said and did was being recorded by an investigator who used a hidden camera to record terrible mistreatment. Ultimately, PeTA filed 10 complaints with the state and federal authorities.

I’m surprised at the vitriol hurled against PeTA for this undercover work. Lots of defensiveness and doubling-down, shoot-the-messenger type comments on the various message boards, including that of the New York Times. Lots of 1111111_1024debate also as to whether the farrier was referring to Nehro not having a pulse in either his legs or his feet being as  good thing or not. A horse’s foot is highly vascularized – circulation is needed to help them function and repair damage. A healthy pulse in either foot or leg is faint, but discernible, especially to an experienced vet. In the context of the video, Blasi and the farrier are complaining about Nehro’s foot being a “nub” with an enormous painful hole in the frog and hoof walls held together by glue. A horse with such extensive hoof damage should have an strong bounding pulse due to inflammation. The lack of pulse despite such physical evidence of damage suggests heavy duty dosages of painkillers that are numbing both blood flow and pain responses to the feet. It sure seems medically unlikely that a horse could have such holes in the frog and hoof wall and simultaneously have no pulse unless drugs are being used to mask the pain.

While PeTA has always had some serious credibility issues for me, I’ve always thought that their investigative work was first-rate. Problematic for me is that they’ve long been accused of objectifying women for their cause. Between a banned Super Bowl ad claiming that vegetarians have better sex and their “Save the Whales, Lose the Blubber” campaign, it often felt to me as if PeTA was promoting animal rights at the cost of the women’s movement – issues that are both paramount for me. A quick browse through their print campaigns clearly shows that while women are often depicted naked, with few exceptions, men are depicted clothed. The problem is that, after looking at half-naked celebrities, few people want to sign a petition or take action. And aggressive and often misguided attempts by various Huffington Post authors to discredit PeTA have had some impact – I’m seeing the oft-repeated mantra of their articles perpetuated in other social media channels. These so-called journalists are confusing the provision of a quick and painless end to what would otherwise be a miserable life, with a gleefully murderous objective. PeTA is not killing animals for amusement or for profit.

peta quote 1

Another huge gaffe for PeTA caused intense frustration amongst horse people who were lobbying furiously against horse slaughter in the US in 2013, when they misguidedly proclaimed that slaughter should return to the US as it was the “lesser of two evils” – the other evil being long transport to slaughter in Canada or Mexico. Imagine how shocked horse advocates were to hear pro-Ag and pro-slaughter mouthpieces quoting PeTA back to us! Exasperatingly, the PeTA statement in favour of a return to horse slaughter was one of the main reasons the Oklahoma horse slaughter law passed. The legislators used that statement as a banner. Yet PeTA is an anti-slaughter group and they promote the passage of the S.A.F.E. Act.

I’ve included some of their print campaigns against racing in this blog post. I think these ones are a lot more thought provoking than the ads featuring naked celebs. But it was a few undercover campaigns that really put them on the map. Whatever you think of them, you’d probably have to acknowledge that they have really demonstrated their ability to create dialogue about things that many people hold sacred, such as circuses and animal labs. Over the past 30 years, PeTA has aggressively assailed corporations for the way they treat animals. But the Asmussen/Blasi investigation was PETA’s first significant step into advocacy in the horse racing world.

The Silver Spring Monkey Investigation

One of PeTA’s founders, a student named Alex Pacheco, set out to gain some experience in a laboratory and began working undercover at the Institute for Behavioral Research.   IBR was a federally funded laboratory in AB004594Silver Spring, Maryland, run by psychologist and animal experimenter Edward Taub, a man with no medical training. There, Pacheco found 17 monkeys living in tiny wire cages that were caked with years of accumulated feces.

“The monkeys were subjected to debilitating surgeries in which their spinal nerves were severed, rendering one or more of their limbs useless. Through the use of electric shock, food deprivation, and other methods, the monkeys were forced to try to regain the use of their impaired limbs or go without food. In one experiment, monkeys were kept immobile in a dark chamber made out of a converted refrigerator and then repeatedly shocked until they finally used their disabled arm. The inside of the refrigerator was covered with blood. In another experiment, monkeys were strapped into a crude restraint chair—their waist, ankles, wrists, and neck held in place with packing tape—and pliers were latched as tightly as possible onto their skin, including onto their testicles.”

The trauma of the monkeys’ imprisonment and treatment was so severe that many of them had ripped at their own flesh, and they had lost many of their fingers from catching them in the rusted, jagged cage bars. Workers often neglected to feed the monkeys, and the animals would desperately pick through the waste beneath their cages to find something to eat.

PeTA gathered meticulous log notes detailing what was happening inside IBR and secretly photographed the horrible living conditions. Then, after lining up expert witnesses and showing them around the laboratory at night, PeTA took the evidence to the police—and an intense, decade-long battle for custody of the monkeys ensued. Their investigation led to the nation’s first arrest and criminal conviction of an animal experimenter for cruelty to animals, the first confiscation of abused animals from a laboratory.

Peta quote 5

The Japanese Horse Slaughter Investigation

As many as 20,000 horses are slaughtered each year in Japan, partly because of overbreeding of thoroughbreds in the U.S., where racehorses are exploited as disposable commodities.

PeTA’s 2009 horse slaughter investigation took place inside Japan’s largest horse slaughterhouse in Kumamoto. Horsemeat from Claude Bouvry’s plant also makes its way to Kumamoto. Kentucky Derby winner Ferdinand was sold to a Japanese breeder and a few years later, when they were done with him, he was unceremoniously slaughtered. PeTA also discovered that Derby and Preakness winners Charismatic and War Emblem are at breeding farms in Japan right now. With their useful breeding days winding down, they are likely to share the fate of Ferdinand. For all I know,  War Emblem may in fact already be dead, since he was something of a failure as a stud and he would now be 15 years old.

peta quote 4

Articles about animal abuse always bring out both the best and the worst of internet posters. In this scenario, racing fans were quick to come up with some flimsy reason why the investigation is bogus, or perpetually ask why we care more for animals than people, make protestations about edited video and the need to provide context, complaints about PeTA’s methods, and any number of other defensive reactions that illuminate how little we want to actually examine our role in the ongoing suffering of animals.

Peta quote 3

The lawyer for Asmussen and Blasi is apparently shocked that someone would go undercover to actually expose the relentless abuse, avarice and greed they visited on these horses. Ironically, Blasi and Asmussen are probably going to see the greatest censure visited on them as a result of the identity falsification charges; after 9/11, this is probably going to be taken pretty seriously – probably more so than the abuse charges. So, an investigation about mistreatment of horses also involved the mistreatment of the human beings who took care of the horses. And If a horse needs electric shock to run faster, then it is no longer the “sport of kings,” but a matter of chaos, controlled by whoever has the biggest cattle prod.

Northern Dancer

Northern Dancer won the American Eclipse Award as Three-Year Old Male Champion of 1964 and the Sovereign Award for Horse of the Year. In 1965, he became the first horse to ever be voted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame, an honour he held for thirty-one years and now shares with Canadian Equestrian Champion Big Ben. On its formation, he was part of the first group of inductees into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame and was inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 1976. In 1977, Northern Dancer won three world sires’ premiership titles being for the number of international stakes winners, international stakes wins and progeny stake earnings. He was retired from stud in 1987 at the age of 26. He died in 1990 and is buried at Windfields Farm in Oshawa, Ontario, Canada. Windfields Farm has subsequently been abandoned, and Northern Dancer’s burial site is not publicly accessible. This is the life-sized bronze statue of him outside Woodbine Race Track in northwest Toronto. While tenderness in a tendon ended his career, he belongs to an “old-school” period when horses weren’t run on thyroxine or frog juice.  He did not continue to race on drugs for years with broken-down legs or feet.  Nor was he sent to slaughter after his breeding days were over.

 

 

Animal Activist Do’s and Don’ts – A Code of Conduct For Protests

Standard

Amberlea with clover for her horseWritten by:  Heather Clemenceau

Artwork by:  Heather Clemenceau

I think that many people hear the term “Code of Conduct” and think that they are automatically about to be thrown in a straitjacket of do-goodiness.  But a Code of Conduct is really just an itemization of our ethics – it sets the tone from the top down, on what our culture of protest, use of social media, etc. will be.  When the Code is understood by activists, it protects us from our own occasional tendency to want to behave roguishly, and it shows people who are watching and listening to us that we have lines that we just won’t cross,  no matter what others do.

I believe that protests should have principles that govern us.  So I’m drawing on my own experience in the Corporate world as well as the activist world in itemizing what I think are important facets of an activist Code of Conduct:

  • We stand for non-violent protection of animals.  Peaceful protest is honourable protest.
  • Keep the protest passive and try to avoid individuals who are overtly negative.  If they insist on arguing with us, stick to the facts.  Do not use inflammatory language or insults when pointing out your legal position and your right to protest
  • What are my rights and freedoms as a photographer in Ontario?  Here is an excellent resource that explains what can be photographed,  who owns a photo,  and what can be published – Ontario Photographers Rights.
  • Do not endanger yourself or others.  If you put yourself into a situation,  then someone else must either come looking for you or must assist or rescue you,  which also puts them at risk.
  • Stand on public property.  Stand where the police tell you and make note of their badge number if the request is questionable.  If a property owner insists that you stand somewhere else, be cautious,  since the police are the ones who must enforce trespassing laws.
  • Do Use the services of the local SPCA and other agencies that advocate for animals  – they can often help raise awareness of the issues or of future protests.  Ask them to include the dates of future protests in email blasts or newsletters.
  • Do not be defamatory – do not make claims about a person’s reputation or business that may be damaging and untrue.Killer Whales (2)
  • We will always make certain that we are parking on public property.  Please do not park on private property and then proceed to protest against the person or organization upon whose property you just trespassed.
  • Do not be threatening, abusive,  harassing,  and do not invade anyone’s personal privacy.
  • Do not make sexist, racist, profane, homophobic, or otherwise offensive and discriminatory remarks
  • Do not promote violence or other unlawful acts including trespassing.
  • Call the police if someone commits an offence against you so that documentation exists.
  • Obey the law and the police. The Animal Welfare/Rights movement is one that is increasingly intersecting with traditional areas of law such as tort, criminal, property, and constitutional law.  The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which is entrenched in Canada’s constitution, guarantees freedom of peaceful assembly in section 2(c).
  • We must be responsible and accountable for our actions, intended or unintended.
  • We don’t condone wrongdoing in ourselves and will be responsible and speak up when it occurs.
  • Do create petitions,  use photographs and factual information to support the petition.  Rely on crowdsourcing to route your petition.  Do find a way to occasionally send a message to the people who have signed your petition to keep them up to date on the progress of your cause.
  • We won’t abuse alcohol or drugs.
  • Contact the police ahead of the protest.  Ask if permits are required.  If so,  ensure that they are fully complied with.
  • If we see violence or vandalism occur, we will report it and co-operate with authorities if required.when pigs fly
  • Know thy audience.  Familiarize yourself with the goal of the protest.  If you create your own signage,  make sure that it aligns with these goals.  Some groups are not susceptible to certain message points,  which means your time and effort protesting will be minimalized or lost entirely.
  • If we use a megaphone, we will ensure that its use is sporadic rather than constant.  We will observe all local bylaws regarding megaphone use.  We will ensure that megaphones are not used excessively in residential areas and we will always use it to convey factual information.  We will not use a megaphone if it startles flight animals.
  • We will respect the rights of non-violence and compassion.
  • We will leave no garbage behind.
  • We will always present ourselves as ordinary, everyday citizens, (which we are).  We have justifiable concerns.  We must also develop and sustain a sense of practicality and realism when responding to questions and concerns.
  • Select an issue that is of particular concern to you and run a campaign to foster change within your local community, workplace or university, or on a larger scale.
  • Video Documentation should be used with a view to preserving evidence and documenting our performance.  Video recording at demos and other events can be a critically useful tool in helping us to review and improve upon our effectiveness. It can also serve as a deterrent to intimidating or violent behavior to our opponents in addition to recourse to be used in litigation. Video recording, however, may unintentionally inflame passions or be viewed as an tool of intimidation if not handled correctly. In view of this it is essential that recording demos and events be done so in a professional manner that avoids aggressive behavior and avoids as much as possible verbal exchanges. (Thanks for this suggestion Martin)

Girl chasing sheepFor a long time it was left to philosophers to speak up in defence of animals.  For example,  Pythagoras urged respect for animals. In the 17th century, early animal protection laws were advanced by Locke, Rousseau, Bentham,  John Stuart Mill et al,  and followed eventually Henry Berg,  who founded the ASPCA.  What we hold in common with the philosophers is that we can advance animal issues by using critical reasoning,  the most effective strategy.

The way has not been easy for contemporary animal activists and will perhaps get even more difficult. The animal exploitation industries have huge resources behind them, and have the ear of government,  But it is impossible to believe that, in the end, justice and compassion will not triumph.

“The question is not can they reason? Nor, can they talk? But can they suffer?”

Space Migration with blue energy field

Spectacle of Cruelty – “Bloodless” Bullfighting Comes to Toronto

Standard

Horses are at grave risk in bullfightsWritten by:  Heather Clemenceau

I was recently shocked to discover that Portuguese “bloodless” bullfighting (corrida incruenta) was occurring in Toronto a few weeks ago, and was sanctioned by the Ontario government.  You may think that a “bloodless” bullfight is comparable to teasing the angry neighbourhood dog, but such is not the case.  Bullfights, whether traditional or “bloodless” all have the same narrative of dominance over the “beast.”

“Bloodless” bullfights are actually something of a misnomer – anyone – human or animal, can still be maimed or killed at this event.  And the bull still dies at the end.  Furthermore, bullfights inhibit bulls and horses from enjoying all of The Five Animal Welfare Freedoms: (The concept of Five Freedoms originated with the Report of the Technical Committee to Enquire into the Welfare of Animals kept under Intensive Livestock Husbandry Systems, the Brambell Report, December 1965 HMSO London, ISBN 0 10 850286 4).  They are:

  • To be free from thirst and hunger (bulls are frequently denied food the day before a bullfight)

  • To be free from discomfort

  • To be free from pain, injury and disease

  • To be free to express normal behaviour

  • To be free from fear and distress that may be caused when a person fails to give some of these freedoms

flyer

Who here will be the recipient of the next Darwin award?

The fact that bullfighting spectacles are public (although in the Toronto area fairly secretive as they are advertised only in Portuguese) has made the practices of animal abuse difficult to hide.  It’s important to distinguish between traditional (Spanish-style) bullfights and the Portuguese –style that took place in Toronto.

This style of bullfighting began in California in the 1980s, launched by the Portuguese since traditional bullfights were not allowed in that state (and probably not in others either).  Growing intolerance towards animal abuse  has forced the bullfighting industry to reform its image and redefine its activities to attempt to dispense with the cruelty label and appear more politically correct.

For years, bullfights of this type happened without the animal welfare movement complaining … because the anti-bullfighting movement had no idea that these “bloodless” events existed, considering the lack of publicity about them.

The main (human) characters in a any style of bullfight, probably require some explanation.  They are:

  • Cavaleiros – A horseman or woman (rider), dressed in traditional 18th century costumes fights the bull from horseback.

  • The Forcados are a group of eight men who challenge the bull directly, without any protection or weapon of defense. The front man provokes the bull into a charge to perform a face catch (these guys are otherwise known as the suicide squad).

  • Matadores – The unmounted killer of bulls.

  • Bandarilheiros – These men are the matador’s and/or cavaleiro’s helpers in the arena. While in the arena, they are holding the cape to distract or position the bull.

bullfight

Downsview Park, Toronto

In a typical (Spanish) bullfight the tools of the trade are all sharp spear-like implements designed to cause great injury and blood loss.  The banderillas (speared flags) have sharp pronged spikes that penetrate the bull’s withers.  Another tool of the Spanish bullfight is the pica, a long spear that is stabbed in the bull’s back by the picador on horseback.  The pica is used to produce pain and to cut the bull’s muscles. This dagger remains deeply embedded in the bull’s back during the remainder of the fight. Finally, the bull is killed with a verdugo while he is either still standing or lying prostrate on the ground or while engaged in mounted pursuit.  The verdugo is aimed at the heart, but sometimes (or usually) the bull does not die instantaneously, so the onslaught may be continued to paralyze him, before cutting off his ears and tail.   The Portuguese bullfight scenario uses all the same methods of torture for bull and horse, but the sharp tools are replaced by Velcro attachments, including a Velcro “saddle” as a means of affixing the banderillas.  The horns of the bull are capped with leather or brass fittings, and the bull is not killed afterwards within public view (but god only knows what happens afterwards).

A non-bloodless bullfight includes the showstopping drama of a gored and maimed matador.

A non-bloodless bullfight includes the showstopping drama of a gored and maimed matador. Bull – 1, Julio Aparicio – 0

The Toronto bullfight is touted as “bloodless” since the bull wears the saddle pad attached to its large withers, and he is “stabbed” with the banderillas that have Velcro tips.  The bull isn’t killed in the arena, but apparently killed later, and his ears and tail are not cut off.  That the bull is still eventually killed seems to be reinforced by the presence of a “bull handler” in at the Toronto event, who bore the name of the the Nosso Talho butcher in Toronto on his T-shirt.

The horses used in Portuguese bullfighting suffer less than traditional corrida, but they are still terrorized and the possibility of injury or death is always present, even though the bulls have capped horns.  The horses also endure a severe and painful training regime, which includes the continuous and heavy use of the rider’s spurs.  Riding a horse in an arena towards a bull requires the use of heavy spurring, which often leaves patches of blood on the horses’ sides.  Anyone who rides or interacts with horses will know that they are not the most courageous animals, hence the use of sharp spurs.

Unlike the horses in a Spanish bullfight, who are there primarily to be gored by the bull, these horses are beautiful and well-trained.  They are usually Portuguese Lusitanos, who are skilled in dressage and truly exhibit their art in the arena.  If you take the bullfight out of the equation, you would very much enjoy their graceful movements.

petos horse protection garment

The Petos – cloth horse protection “armor.”

The purpose for including many horses in the Spanish bullfights is to wear out the bull by continually presenting opportunities for him to have to lift and throw the blindfolded animals into the air.  In this way the bullfighters make the fight somewhat safer for themselves (at the terrible expense of the innocent horses) while they execute their passes and/or twirls.  By being presented with these “obstacles,” the bull is weakened to reduce the risk of accident.

Although the horses used in the Spanish fights have cloth armour, this “protection” is insufficient, and the bull can easily knock the horse down and gore it in the unprotected parts of the body, adding real wounds (sometimes fatal) to the terror horses endure from the moment that an invisible being – since the horse is blindfolded – charges against it with all its force.  The horses used for this type of bullfight are old ones, and after they have served all their lives in a faithful way to mankind, they are sold for few coins to the bullfighters when they should have earned their retirement.

Before the fight, their vocal cords are mutilated without any anaesthetic, so when the bulls approach them, they cannot neigh in fear or pain if already gored. This is so that the audience is not aware that the horse is suffering,  which must prompt you to wonder what kind of “special” person could not be aware that the horses are terrified or in agony.  Even where there is no accident to the horses, they are occasionally seen to be bleeding, since the riders use the spurs with so much intensity to make the horse react quickly to their instructions, that these cause visible injuries.

butcher

This butcher shop on Bloor Street W. in Toronto might be a good place to watch for the announcement of the 2014 bullfight! And they’re on Facebook!

Another aspect that makes the bloodless bullfight cruel for the bull is due to the fact that the bulls have high mass and a not very efficient mechanism to control the excess of body temperature (they neither sweat profusely like the equines or human beings, nor do they have very long tongues to eliminate heat like dogs).  As a result, after fairly limited exercise they are easily exhausted and at risk of suffering hyperthermia. This can be verified simply observing their facial expressions – the open mouth and the tongue out, while breathing intensely.

Nevertheless, the dangers to horses in Portuguese bullfights are similar to the dangers of the horses in Spanish bullfights, despite the capped horns of the bulls. This GRAPHIC and disturbing film shows what may happen to them.  I’m sure everyone can anticipate what can happen in a mounted bullfight, so unless your imagination isn’t very good or you “need” to see, I’d suggest you don’t watch it. It’s here in case anyone needs any further persuading only.  And even though the bull’s horns are capped at the “bloodless” event,  a horse can still be seriously or fatally injured.

inside the stadium

Fun for the entire family at Downsview Park. Check your compassion at the gate.

Bullfighting has surely reached its lengthy final phase.  The desperate search for “less cruel” bullfight will never end, because the bullfighting industry is trying to create something that cannot exist, like “humane horse slaughter.”  It will ultimately fail, since with the passage of every generation, we are more sensitive to animal suffering and more sophisticated in detecting it.  And anything that the bullfighting industry does to get rid of the cruel label will ultimately fail is because its activities are absolutely cruel, and this fact can easily be documented.

For cruelty to occur two elements are needed: that unnecessary suffering is caused to an animal, and that those who cause it keep on causing it even though they are free to stop doing it. To deliberately and repeatedly cause suffering, even psychological suffering in the case of “bloodless” bullfights – for entertainment, while ignoring pain of the victim, is an act not only of cruelty but of torture.

Also disturbing at the Toronto event, bullfighting aficionados have brought teenagers so that they can also become fans, through desensitizing and “tribal cohesion” (you can see teens with adults in one of the arena pics).  You end up with a younger culture that continues to be desensitized to the suffering of animals.  There are already well-known studies that relate the abuse of animals to the abuse to human beings, and there are more scholars and welfare advocates who join the rejection of bullfighting not only for animal protection reasons, but to create awareness of the human cost as well.

Even “bloodless” bullfights infringe on The Five Animal Welfare Freedoms. Therefore, the bullfighting industry, in charge of the well-being of its animals, is in breach of those five blood spursanimal freedoms, and it is therefore also guilty of animal abuse.  In the 21st century there is no room for cruel spectacles that cause suffering to other sentient beings, (not that there ever was such a reason) and changing the name, the form or intensity of such cruelty does not give them the right to continue existing.

Torontonians made a valiant effort and in a scant few days amassed over 1,700 signatures on a petition, in an attempt to stop this event.  The OSPCA and Toronto Animal Services were present to examine the bulls and the Velcro saddles they wore.  Unfortunately, we were disadvantaged by not hearing about it soon enough, and the event not being widely advertised.  But we will be ready in 2014.

Ernest Hemingway aspired to be a matador. His novel The Sun Also Rises has autobiographical elements and includes bullfighting themes, as do his short stories.  He also wrote two non-fiction books on bullfighting – Death in the Afternoon and The Dangerous Summer.  However, Hemingway was clear about one thing:

“Bullfighting is not a sport. It was never supposed to be. It is a tragedy. A very great tragedy.”

feature of humane bullfight

Somehow, there is dignity in this?

A Reply to Nathan Winograd…

Standard

bignewyorkerbookofdogs2Written by:  Amanda Katz (Guestblogger Extraordinaire)

After a lengthy discussion that centered around my support for HSUS and the ASPCA,  I asked Nathan Winograd via Facebook whether he supported Caboodle Ranch a failed hoarding/rescue of 700 cats.   He responded that he had made no statement about the ranch, then asked me a number of questions that seemed to be sparked by my cover pic of the HSUS baby seal campaign.  Here is my response to him, which came after a long series of back and forth between Winograd, myself and several other people.

Mr. Winograd – You have asked posters on your Facebook page not to put words in your mouth, yet your latest reply to me certainly puts words into mine.  You seem to have made all kinds of assumptions and accusations about what I think and believe, when all I did was ask if I could post openly on your page!   I am going to go ahead and share my thoughts openly, even though you removed my civil comments and banned me.

First regarding Caboodle Ranch.  I am glad to see you say you would condemn a place that is causing prolonged suffering and death to animals, even if that place calls itself No Kill.  That is exactly what Caboodle Ranch did.

You seem to be questioning the evidence against Caboodle Ranch solely because some of it came from PETA and ASPCA, which you claim lie about the facts.  However, it is hard to see where the evidence that PETA and ASPCA got about Caboodle was a lie.  Photos and video don’t lie, which is exactly why Big Ag. interests in several states are trying to pass Ag-Gag laws banning undercover investigations — and why the Caboodle defenders sound exactly like factory farmers talking about Mercy for Animals when they claim the photos and videos were doctored, staged, etc.

In the Caboodle Ranch case, PETA sent an undercover investigator at the request of several former volunteers to document the cruelty and neglect that caused the death of hundreds of cats.  PETA’s investigation provided local authorities with the evidence required to shut down the ranch.  At that point, local authorities asked the ASPCA to remove all 700 cats.  The ASPCA housed the cats for months while the legal proceedings were sorted out, provided extensive rehabilitation and medical treatment, and eventually adopted all but the very sickest of cats into new homes.

Even if you don’t believe PETA or the ASPCA about Caboodle Ranch, there is plenty of other evidence available. Before PETA and ASPCA were ever involved, the owner sued a former volunteer turned whistleblower for defamation and lost — it is this court case that provides much of the evidence against Caboodle Ranch, such as the financial records showing that Caboodle took in much more in donations than it paid in care for the cats, and that its owner used donations for the cats to pay for trips and clothing.

That evidence, combined with evidence from PETA and the ASPCA was certainly convincing to the courts, as the judge cited it in his order awarding custody of the cats to the local sheriff.  If all you do is read this court order, you will get a good idea of conditions for the animals at Caboodle Ranch.

Yes, I support the HSUS — and Other Organizations

You have also asked several questions of me.  I will do my best to answer them, though you may not like the answers.

I do support the HSUS, as well as ASPCA and PETA.  I also support Best Friends, and believe it or not, I support some of what you do as well.  You may not think that is possible, as you have made a concerted effort to draw a line in the sand between yourself and every other national animal welfare organization.  But I do not take such a black-and-white view of these issues.

First, regarding HSUS, you have presented a number of allegations on your Facebook page.  I can’t answer all of those, but I can answer some, and I believe you are misconstruing their actual work and position on the issues. For example, bignewyorkerbookofdogs5regarding dogs rescued from fighting operations, your description of the HSUS position does not include the fact that they changed their position on this issue back in April 2009 — almost four years ago.  At the time of the Vick case and the Wilkes County case, when asked, they did advise the court to euthanize the dogs.  That is not the same thing as “lobbying” — the court asked, and they provided an answer.  Moreover, at the time euthanasia was the standard recommendation for all dogs removed from fighting operations — most humane organizations made the same recommendation.

Fortunately the HSUS was mature enough to reconsider this position and change its recommendations to advocate for individual evaluations.  Again, that happened almost four years ago now, yet you continue to write about HSUS as if euthanasia is their current position when it is not.  Moreover, the HSUS remained true to its word with the rescue of 200 dogs from a fighting operation in Ohio in 2010.  All but the sickest of dogs were rescued and placed into new homes.

One of those homes belongs to an HSUS employee I know personally who slept with him in the living room every night for weeks so she could be there when he woke up with nightmares.  This is hardly the hard-hearted pro-killing organization that you make HSUS out to be.  For more, see “HSUS Steps Up and Seeks Help for 200 Dogs Seized from Fighting Operation” by Ledy van Kavage first published on change.org.

Why do you not present this crucial part of the story when discussing the HSUS’s recommendations on fighting dogs?

bignewyorkerbookofdogs1Gas chamber and Michael Vick

Regarding the allegations that HSUS has lobbied against laws banning the gas chamber, I have a very difficult time believing the HSUS did that. On the contrary, the HSUS has given grants to shelters to transition them off of the gas chamber.  The HSUS also actively supports the proposed Congressional resolution by Jim Moran (D-Va.) to condemn use of the gas chamber and encourage states to ban it.

You told someone farther up this thread that the Moran resolution makes an exception for shelters, but again, I think that is a misconstrual of the facts.  It is a proposed resolution, not a law, so it is not binding on anyone.  The national Congress is not going to pass a law regarding shelter practices because animal shelters are regulated by state and local governments, and are not a federal matter.

However, if Congress passed a resolution condemning the gas chamber, that would be an important tool in pushing states like North Carolina to ban the practice.  This would be a win for the animals that we are all trying to help.  That’s why resolutions like this should be supported regardless of feelings about HSUS.

Moreover, the HSUS position on the gas chamber is clear: “The HSUS considers use of the gas chamber in a shelter setting to be unacceptable under any circumstances.”  The reasons are that “Gas chambers cannot provide humane euthanasia for shelter populations,” and “Gas chambers pose grave dangers to staff.”

As for Vick, I can see why the HSUS worked with him, but it is not something I actively supported.  As was pointed out to you, Vick can reach inner-city kids in African American neighborhoods in a way that you, I, or Wayne Pacelle cannot. He spoke to tens of thousands of them, and if he got even one kid to reconsider going into dogfighting, that is a good thing.  Unfortunately, the Vick partnership sparked a strong backlash in the animal welfare community.  For that reason, I do not think it has been a success.

However, regardless of whether the Vick program was successful, it was not done as a quid pro quo to get $50,000 out of the Philadelphia Eagles.  That money did not go to line anyone’s pockets but to the End Dogfighting program in Philadelphia.  The Eagles also gave $50,000 grants to two other humane organizations at the same time — the Philadelphia Animal Welfare Society to build a spay-neuter clinic, and Berks County Humane Society to fund a mobile veterinary clinic.

Why do you not mention those grants in your discussion of the Eagles money?  Is it possible the Eagles were simply trying to improve animal welfare in their community?  All three of their grants went to animal welfare programs in Philadelphia, and with a $50,000 grant, each program could help a lot more animals.

herding catsOther National Groups

Regarding the ASPCA, I do not know as much about them as I do HSUS, but they stepped up to save 700 cats from Caboodle Ranch, as well as 350 dogs from a failed rescue in Ohio in 2011. In both cases they were asked to help by local authorities because local shelters simply do not have the capacity to handle so many animals. And in both cases almost every animal was saved, and these were very sick animals removed from horrible hoarding situations.

This demonstrates one reason why we need the national groups.  What other groups have the capacity to conduct large-scale rescues from hoarding situations, fighting rings, puppy mills, natural disasters, and other cases when hundreds of animals are in need?  I don’t see that any of your No Kill shelters, as wonderful as they are, have the capacity to do that.

Furthermore, in many cases in which animals were removed from so-called rescues that were really situations of great cruelty, the rescue group had a 501c3.  In fact, all the national animal welfare groups have been asked to handle major removals from 501c3 rescue organizations that were actually horrible hoarding situations.  Besides the ASPCA’s involvement in Caboodle Ranch in Florida and One More Chance Rescue in Ohio, the HSUS rescued, rehabilitated and rehomed 700 cats from Haven Acres in Florida, while Best Friends rescued 800 cats from For the Love of Cats and Kittens in Nevada, 150 of which still live at the Best Friends sanctuary in Utah.

All of these so-called rescue groups had a 501c3, yet they all involved extreme animal suffering.  Perhaps this is why the national groups have not testified in favor of CAPA laws that would require local shelters to turn over animals to any rescue group that asks.  While most rescues are wonderful organizations, clearly some of them are not — to send an animal to one of these places would condemn it to prolonged suffering and death.

A 501c3 alone is simply not enough to ensure that a place calling itself a rescue is not a death camp.  Again I think you have misconstrued the position of the national organizations on this issue.  While you say they have lobbied against the CAPA bills, that is not the case in the instances I have read about, such as Best Friends which remained neutral on the CAPA proposal in New York.

Personally, I think shelters should work more with rescue groups and would support a version of CAPA that provided some kind of standards for rescue groups to meet before shelters were legally required to send animals to them.  I am not sure what those standards would be, but would support, for example, formation of an accrediting body for shelters and rescues similar to the organizations that accredit top zoos (Association of Zoos and Aquariums), and quality exotic animal sanctuaries (Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries).  Shelters and rescues would have an incentive to achieve accreditation because accredited organizations are more likely to draw donations and be awarded grants.

We All Want to End Shelter Euthanasiadogsandblogsnewyorker

As I said earlier, while I don’t agree with some of your positions, I do support other things you do.  The No Kill Equation is a list of best practices that every shelter should be striving to accomplish, and many shelters are already incorporating some, most or all of its elements into their operations.  Others are not.

There is no doubt that some shelters are in dire need of reform, and I am glad your group is there to demand that they do it.  But there is a difference between criticism meant to reform bad practices and a scorched earth campaign meant to destroy the very infrastructure we need to help animals.  I think that your rhetoric often crosses the line into destruction rather than criticism.

Moreover, I cannot agree that there is no such thing as pet overpopulation, or that adoption alone can end shelter euthanasia.  Increased adoption is certainly an essential part of what must be done, including concerted efforts at better marketing and placement of animals.  Other tactics to  help save large groups of animals should be supported, such as a creating a Parvo ward for puppies and a bottle baby ward for kittens, provided they are properly staffed to avoid suffering.

But we also must reduce the number of animals flowing into shelters, particularly from puppy mills and unaltered street cats.  Low-cost spay-neuter for low-income areas is vital, as is legislation regulating high-volume dog breeders.  Why endorse one tactic to end shelter euthanasia (increasing demand) but not another (decreasing supply)?  Surely there is room for a variety of tactics to achieve this important goal.

You say that no one can provide numbers showing there are fewer homes than animals needing to be placed.  That is because such national numbers do not exist.  We have an idea how many animals are in shelters, but we have no idea how many are being advertised on Craig’s List and other online forums, how many stray cats are on the streets, how many people get cats from accidental litters that a friend had, etc.

The actual number of homeless animals is much, much higher than what is in shelters.  For every person who gets a cat at a shelter, many more get cats from friends or the streets.  That is direct competition for shelter animals and must be considered in these calculations of supply and demand. Furthermore, the animals who are in shelters do not always match what people are looking for.  Most people don’t want pit bulls, yet half of dogs in shelters are pits or pit mixes.  People want kittens, not adult cats, yet shelters are overflowing with adult cats.  People don’t want black animals.

I’m not saying that’s right.  I think it’s terrible.  But regardless of what I think, someone who comes to a shelter looking for a kitten or a Pomeranian is not going to walk away with an adult black cat or a pit bull.  So it’s not a matter solely of numbers.  It is also a matter of preferences.  Shelter director Karel Minor makes this point eloquently.

Herblock Fire June 17, 1949We Need to Work Together

To say that people who disagree with your interpretation of these complex issues are “pro-killing” is simply not accurate.  On this page I have seen you tell people who spend their entire life outside of work rescuing animals that they are pro-killing.  I believe that is a misrepresentation of their hard work and counter-productive. With so many animals suffering, we need ALL tactics, ALL groups working together.

You have noted that the number of no kill communities is rising.  They achieve no kill by working with others in their communities to constructively solve problems, not through vicious attacks and infighting.

I look forward to the day when all animal advocates can work together to help animals in need, when there is room for all tactics and programs to end shelter euthanasia, and when we can end this vicious infighting that is a much larger threat to the animal welfare movement than any external enemy ever could be.