Wednesday, August 26, 2009

PA: Animal Welfare Debate Takes Center Stage

Animal Welfare Debate Takes Center Stage
From: Lancaster Farming. Follow this link to the article
Submitted by Editor on Fri, 08/21/2009 - 11:25am.

Charlene M. Shupp
Special Sections Editor

HERSHEY, Pa. — The take-home message from last week’s Animal Welfare Forum was simple. Chad Gregory of the United Egg Producers and Paul Shapiro of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) agreed to disagree.

During the two-hour discussion, farmers, veterinarians and industry professionals heard Gregory and Shapiro discuss the impact of California’s Proposition 2 ballot initiative from 2009. This was the first time both have addressed a group jointly on animal agriculture production. The event was sponsored by PennAg Industries Association and the Pennsylvania Veterinary Medical Association.

Last year, both sides spent millions of dollars to argue their viewpoints on the ballot initiative that would essentially eliminate gestation crates for swine, battery cages for chickens and crates for veal calves.

The question voters had to answer was this: “Should farm animals have the ability to stand up, sit down, turn around, and extend their limbs without touching anything?” Both sides built coalitions before the election to make their case. For Californians, the answer was a resounding “yes,” winning 63 to 37 percent.

Shapiro noted that the ballot garnered more “yes” votes than any other citizen initiative in California history and that it won majorities of all major demographics.
Gregory said the electorate did not understand what they were voting for, and Shapiro countered that the overwhelming support for the measure showed that, for the most part, it was an obvious choice.

The battle over animal welfare has gained momentum in several states in addition to California. In states where the issue was taken through the state legislature, Gregory said his organization has won because they have been able to use science to explain their side of the issue to legislators.

On the other hand, in states where the issue can be decided by a ballot initiative, HSUS has been successful.

Gregory asked this rhetorical question: If all the HSUS wanted to do was ban battery cages, why did they not simplify the language to reflect that? He believes it is so HSUS can expand the meaning of the law as it is implemented.

“We cannot feed these (additional) people without concentrated, commercial-sized farms,” said Gregory. “It’s impossible.” He noted that 95 percent of all egg production is in caged egg production facilities.

In trying to separate the differences between the two groups, Gregory said organizations like his represent “farmers who get dirt under their fingernails.”

Shapiro said that the strength of the HSUS comes from its membership, and that in a recent survey HSUS placed in the top 10 in brand recognition — the only group that did not represent a human welfare topic with that distinction. He also said 1 in 28 Americans support HSUS.

Consumers, Gregory believes, should be allowed to decide how their eggs are produced — caged, cage-free, or organic — at the grocery checkout line.

The egg industry saw welfare-driven production changes happening in Europe and decided to take a proactive approach to the issue. United Egg Producers (UEP) developed an animal welfare committee to craft a scientifically-based set of guidelines for the industry.

“We did not want the guidelines to be driven by government mandates and activist organizations,” said Gregory. “We wanted guidelines to prevent disruption in the industry.”

The program has requirements for space per bird, and also addresses molting, beak trimming and lighting. Participating farms must have 100 percent of their farm audited and file compliance reports.

“This program has incredible teeth, it has been very credible,” Gregory said, noting that 80 percent of farms are participating. Additionally, cage-free programs certified by UEP are also accredited by the American Humane Association.

Gregory challenged Shapiro, saying if HSUS and PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) were “really interested in improving the welfare of chickens, they would go after the remaining 20 percent to get them into the program.”

Proposition 2, according to Shapiro, was grassroots driven with countless volunteers reaching out to their neighbors to share their concerns with the welfare of farm animals. Most states do not have laws on the books regarding animal welfare for livestock.

Both Gregory and Shapiro used science and research for their sides of the argument, in some cases using the same study to make their points.

According to Gregory, if cages were banned, the ramifications would include an increase of 15 million hens to produce the same number of eggs, a doubling of chicken mortality, and greater feed needs — to the tune of an additional one million acres of cropland for grain.

Both pointed to the economic study that says it costs one cent more per egg to move from caged to cage free production. Shapiro said that the costs to producers and consumers would not be much. Gregory said the study does not include the upfront investments that will be needed by farmers. He also noted the differences in store costs of more than a $1 dollar per dozen for eggs from cage-free hens and nearly $3 for organic compared to eggs from caged hens.

Both argued food safety points. Gregory used studies demonstrating that eggs produced in a cages system were safer. Shapiro pointed to studies showing the food safety benefits of cage-free.

Shapiro said that the egg industry only has to look to the broiler industry.

Broilers are raised on floors. He said the object of HSUS’s work is not to take farmers out of business.

“We’re not talking about making ideal living conditions for animals,” he said. “We are talking about raising the bar for animal welfare.”
Gregory concluded that Americans need to be careful in their choices because of the long-term effects. Looking to Europe, he said that consumers need to move forward with caution. Since many changes have come to regulations in the European Union, animal food production has been unable to keep pace with demand and those countries are on the verge of an egg shortage. To make up the difference, they will have to import eggs from countries that do not follow animal welfare standards.

Charlene Shupp Espenshade can be reached at

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Sophie's (ur.... Wendy's) Choice- a modern day, dilemna of powerful forces enforcing personal agendas

Sophie's Choice in Philadelphia
(author unknow at the moment- it will appear in the Chronical of the Horse on Friday)

Wendy Willard, a retired school teacher and MBH of the Murder Hollow Bassets, kennels her hounds in a barn near her house located inside a 340-acre nature preserve, the largest single privately-owned parcel of land within the city limits of Philadelphia.

On Monday, July 27, seven officers from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania's Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement, the Philadelphia Police, and the Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (PSPCA), in as many vehicles, staged a full-scale raid on Murder Hollow's kennels apparently in an unsuccessful search for an illegal dog breeding operation.

Murder Hollow had, at the time, ten and 1/2 couple of hounds, and Ms. Willard was additionally keeping two aged and retired bassets in her house. The Commonwealth Dog Law Enforcement officers found no illegal kennels under state law, and took their leave, but PSPCA "Humane Law Officers" accused Wendy Willard of being in violation of Philadelphia's Animal Control Code, which requires a waiver from the Department of Public Health for the keeping of more than 12 dogs or cats in "a residential dwelling unit."

Wendy Willard had found on her front door a card from PSPCA containing no message a few days prior to the raid. On Monday, the authorities arrived again and requested entry, then returned promptly equipped with a warrant after being initially turned away.

In subsequent reports by PSPCA, no mention of a search for a dog kennel violating state law, which according to Jessie Smith, Deputy Director of the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, was the Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement's basis for obtaining the search warrant used to gain entry to the Murder Hollow property, was ever made. The raid, featuring seven officers from three official organizations with five trucks and two police cars, according to PSPCA's later statements, was simply occasioned by a (never identified) neighbor complaining of dogs barking.

PSPCA Humane Officer Tara Loller proceeded to present Wendy Willard with the kind of cruel dilemma depicted in William Styron's 1979 novel Sophie's Choice. In the novel (made into a 1982 film starring Meryl Streep), a young Polish mother sent to Auschwitz is forced by a sadistic Nazi doctor to choose which of her two children she will be allowed to keep and which will be immediately gassed.

"They are my family," a distraught Willard said of her dogs,” reported the Philadelphia Daily News on August 7th.

Loller demanded that Wendy Willard immediately surrender eleven hounds, reducing the number on her property to twelve (and agree to have all but four of those remaining neutered), or Willard was warned, PSPCA would take all her hounds. "We can give you enough citations to take your house," the PSPCA officers boasted to Willard.

According to a one former PSPCA humane officer, quoted in a story in the Pocono Record last December, this kind of tactic is a standard part of PSPCA humane officer training statewide. "We were taught to intimidate people into giving their animals up. We were told to tell them "in lieu of charges, surrender your animals." Some former officers told the Record that they were given a quota of surrendered animals to fill, and that humane officers' annual bonus payments were dependent on meeting their quotas. In order to persuade animal owners to sign surrender documents, PSPCA Humane Officers are evidently not above lying.

Three of the hounds on Wendy Willard's property had come from the Sandanona Hare Hounds of Millbrook, New York. Sandanona's Master Betsy Park , specifically in order to avoid any of her hounds ever falling into the hands of an animal shelter, makes a policy of retaining title to any hounds drafted, given as stud fees, or retired from her pack. With any hound originating from Sandanona comes a contract requiring its return to Mrs. Park in the event that it can no longer be cared for at its new home. The PSPC A officers assured Wendy Willard that Betsy Park would be able to reclaim her hounds after their surrender. She would, naturally, have "first claim" to their new adoption. There was, of course, no truth whatsoever in those assurances, but they led Wendy Willard to believe that unlucky Sappho, Anxious, and Harlem would have a better chance of being recovered.

PSPCA, in the case of pedigreed dogs like the Murder Hollow Bassets, channels them into a breed-oriented rescue system, which houses them in private foster homes, and then distributes the basset hounds to new owners in exchange for a $200 adoption fee. Less desirable animals, "rescued" by PSPCA after a 72 hour hold time are simply euthanized.

PSPCA in its press releases has repeatedly claimed the eleven bassets taken had been transferred to foster care by a partner rescue organization. Apparently, however, this is not the case. I personally contacted basset rescue organizations last weekend, trying to identify the location of the seized hounds. The director of adoptions at the regional rescue organization told me he had been scheduled to receive 10 of the bassets taken from Murder Hollow, but that the transfer had been cancelled, and the hounds "frozen" and "locked down" in the PSPCA holding facility as "evidence" is a case now considered under dispute.

Evidently, either efforts by Sandanona to recover their three hounds, or discussion and criticism of the Murder Hollow raid on a variety of dog-breed-oriented bulletin boards on the Internet beginning about the same time early last week was deemed sufficient by PSPCA to cause the animal welfare organization to move to the defensive. As a news report on a similar PSPCA case observes, whenever there is a legal challenge to PSPCA, the confiscated animals become live evidence, and will be kept in storage cages for months, and sometimes years, while court cases drag on. Animals whose ownership is under dispute will not be transferred for adoption.

It may not be completely coincidental that the PSPCA additionally stopped applauding Wendy Willard for "working to clean and improve the kennels" or being "encouraged by her efforts," but instead was disappointed to find on upon its Friday, August 7th follow-up inspection that "overall living conditions remained poor" resulting in 11 citations for unsanitary conditions, 11 citations for lack of veterinary care and two tickets for barking.

The raid on the Murder Hollow kennels and PSPCA's policies, operations, and behavior in the present case have been widely criticized on the Internet and by field sports organizations rallying to Wendy Willard's defense.

William E. Bobbitt, Jr., president of the registry and organizational authority for hunting basset packs, wrote:
"Wendy Willard hasmaintained a pack of Basset Hounds recognized by the National Beagle Club of America since 1989. She frequently brings her hounds to the Institute Farm to compete in the Basset Pack Trials held there and her hounds are always fit and well cared for. In fact, she treats her hounds like family members. We want to support Wendy in her efforts to maintain the 6 couple of hounds that remain with her, but we also have great concern for the welfare of the hounds which were seized and taken.
There are Basset packs that are willing and anxious to take those hounds in and provide them with good hunting homes, which is what they are used to, and we hope that the PSPCA will cooperate in making these placements possible, instead of keeping the hounds confined in cages at a holding facility."

Lt. Col. Dennis Foster (USA, ret.), Executive Director of the Master of Foxhounds Association of America, the senior scenthound organization in the United States, called the PSPCA's actions "a travesty." He described the confiscation of Murder Hollow's hounds as "a classic example of a government agency going out of bounds." Foster dismissed the PSPCA's charges against Ms. Willard and described their subsequent handling of the Murder Hollow bassets as recognizable as the "behavior of people who do not understand hounds."
(This article will appear in the Chronical of the Horse on Friday)

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

PA- Wilkes-Barre mayor wants BSL

Wilkes-Barre mayor wants BSL
A very determined young woman, Samantha Blum of Wilkes-Barre is working to try and prevent Wilkes-Barre's mayor, Thomas M. Leighton form gaining permission from Pennsylvania state legislators to ignore the statewide law disallowing municipalities in the state to enact BSL (Breed Specific Legislation). Leighton wants to create a law disallowing "vicious dogs" from roaming free in public parks.
The impetus behind Leighton's desire is because of two recent yet unrelated incidents at the county owned park known as River Common. On June 29 a man's small, leashed dog was attacked in the park by two loose dogs. The little one was injured to the point of needing euthanization.
On July 4, responding to a call of a dog running wild in River Common Park, police shot and killed a pit bull dog. With no owner in sight and the dog acting aggressively, a police officer shot the dog when it lunged at him.
This isn't the first time Leighton has attempted enacting BSL in Wilkes-Barre. In 2001, when Leighton was a member of city council, he pushed to ban pit bulls, Rottweilers, German shepherds and Doberman Pinschers from city parks after authorities shot a pit bull during a raid at a Woodward Street home.
Again, in 2005, Leighton pushed new legislation to ban pit bulls from the entire city. At that time local police officials backed him, saying dogs were often kept by criminals, and were a danger to police officers. Both times it was Pennsylvania's law that prevented his efforts.
Blum is leading a campaign to oppose banning dog breeds from public parks stating “Breed-specific legislation is not the solution to a problem, but rather a means of punishing responsible pet owners and good dogs for the actions of a few dogs that were brought up in an inappropriate or abusive environment or improperly trained.”
She is circulating petitions asking people to support the cause. She is asking all area residents to sign her petition which states BSL is wrong and asks for alternative changes in legislation like higher accountability of dog owners, public education and stricter enforcement of leash laws.
Copies of Blum’s petition are available for the public to sign at the following area pet stores and grooming facilities:
Pet Supplies Plus, Scott Street
Tropic Pet Center, South Main Street
K9 Korner, Route 309;
Animal Buddies, East Walnut Street
Pet Wonderland, Blackman Street;
Pets-n-You, Kidder Street
Auntie Liz’s Diamond in the Ruff, North Mountain Boulevard, Mountain Top
The entire petition is quoted below.
A Petition to Oppose Breed Ban in Wilkes-Barre
We, the undersigned, respectfully urge the city of Wilkes-Barre to seek alternate changes in legislation in regard to the proposed breed ban. We feel that the breed ban is drastic and unnecessary. We believe that there are other options available to consider that would be more effective in addressing this issue of the public’s safety brought about by the recent incidents of unleashed dogs and dog attacks.
This petition is to oppose the ban of any breed of dog. The recent incidents, however, were believed to have involved Pit Bulls, a breed that is often misidentified and because of such has received a negative connotation. The label of “Pit Bull” is often used incorrectly to generalize a large group of dogs/breeds that have similar physical characteristics of “Pit Bulls” but aren’t in fact true Pit Bulls (e.g. American Bulldog, Boxer, Cane Corso, Tosa Inu etc.). The only breeds of dog to be true Pit Bulls are the American Pit Bull Terrier (APBT), American Staffordshire Terrier, and Staffordshire Bull Terrier. The APBT are a breed which is historically known to be extremely loyal, obedient, and friendly. How can breed specific legislation be implemented when the line between what is a Pit Bull and what looks like a Pit Bull is blurred to so many?
Although “Pit Bulls” are infamous for being involved in dog fights and for being very violent, these dogs are not innately driven to be vicious animals. Due to their large stature and strength these dogs, among with other dogs of various breeds and similar attributes, are being victimized and exploited for the sake of greed and a sort of twisted form of entertainment by those who are supposed to protect and care for these animals. These cases have not only hurt the animal’s unfortunate enough to have been involved but have also given an unnecessarily bad reputation to the breed as a whole. Any breed of any animal can become violent if they are in an environment where they’re being mistreated or improperly trained.
As alternatives to the possible breed ban in the city of Wilkes-Barre, we propose higher accountability for not only pet owners but those interacting with these animals, as well as stricter enforcement of leash laws. It is important for the public to be educated about different breeds of dogs and to be informed and cautious if they encounter a stray, unleashed, or otherwise unaccompanied dog. People need not blindly fear any specific breed but rather have a rational understanding of possible dangers that could accompany any stray or wild animal. Better funding for local shelters can help educate the public and to control and care for the animal population. Animal shelters and rescue groups across the country are overcrowded and under funded and if this plan is put into effect it will create more problems than it solves by leaving more dogs without homes, especially those who are innocent and have been given the false label of “a bad dog” or even “killer” based solely on their breed. All dogs are unique and we believe it’s inhumane to hold such prejudice against an entire breed of dog as a basis for a proposed ban of the breed.
We live in an area (like many others) where we have had floods, drugs, murders, animal attacks, crimes against children, etc. and the public deserves to be and needs to be exposed to any threat or danger of any kind that may affect them in a way that informs not terrifies or causes panic. By affixing my signature, I would respectfully ask the city of Wilkes-Barre to review this petition, the support it shows, and consider favorably our proposal for alternative legislation.
So, any and all Wilkes-Barre residents who agree with Blum on the BSL issue please sign the petition and pass it to others. A copy of a printable form of the petition can be obtained from Blum by emailing her at
For any citizen who disagrees with BSL please contact Mayor Thomas M. Leighton at 570-208-4158 or email him at:, letters can be addressed to him at: Wilkes-Barre City Hall, 40 East Market Street, Wilkes-Barre, PA 18711
Please be respectful when contacting the mayor as anything less would negate the seriousness of your message. It is imparative the mayor hears from the public so kindly let him know if you are against BSL.
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Sources: Woman wants dogs to remain in parks
Wilkes-Barre police shoot, kill pit bull running loose on River Common
Reaction after pit bull shooting
Wilkes-Barre, PA: City to ask legislature for ability to pass BSL
Woman in favor of dog breed ban in park

Other info: Pit Bulls in America