Animals in Entertainment: A Show at what Cost?

Michael Zavist

            Whether you realize it or not, animals have been used in entertainment for most of our lifetime. Whether in circuses, zoos, television, movies, and other forms of fighting events, animals have always played a role at one point or another. Unfortunately using animals for these purposes can often involve cruelty and mistreatment. Travel, confinement, and forced behavior changes harms these animals. There is also minimal state and federal protection for animals used in entertainment. The Animal Welfare Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act give exemptions to some of the laws protecting these animals all for the sake of “education” and “entertainment.” Is the cost of an animal’s wellbeing worth the brief moments of entertainment for us to enjoy? I think not.

            Containing wild animals in captivity is usually a dangerous idea. Trainers, performers, and people put themselves at risk when these animals are subjected to mistreatment. A wild animal is not the same as a domestic pet that you may have grown up with. These dangers have become a big part of our history and are not simply unheard of stories. Notable examples of this are the SeaWorld incident in Orlando and the death of Harambe at the Cincinnati Zoo.

            Animals in captivity are unable to fully exhibit natural tendencies like foraging, socializing, or swimming. Many animals such as polar bears, grizzly bears, and tigers suffer physically and psychologically when confined. Animals, especially large animals, need adequate space to roam, swim and explore. Orcas in the wild exist in tight-knit family groups and can travel over 100 miles in a single day. Captive orcas are kept in small pools for entertainment, in which they cannot dive and must swim circles in shallow tanks. Each entertainment industry subjects their animals to some form of unnatural conditions.

            Zoos remove animals from their natural birthplaces and companions, and confine them in unnatural surroundings. Some Zoos help rehabilitate injured animals and keep them alive when they are unfit to return to the wild. Unfortunately around 33 percent of large, captive-bred carnivores die if they return to the wild according to a team of researchers from the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom. These animals end up losing their survival skills and are subject to breeding in captivity. Some of us may remember the Netflix documentary Tiger King from just last year. Investigators documented the treatment of tiger cubs born at Tiger Safari. These cubs were subject to mishandling from the public and were consigned to cages after the Tiger Safari was done with them. These cubs ended up dying almost a year into their lives. The cost of these animals’ lives is not worth us being able to witness them outside of their habitats.

            In movies and television animals, although some are now using CGI and animatronics, there are still animals subjected to unnatural conditions for these motion pictures. The 1959 movie, “Ben-Hur,” cost the lives of over 100 horses during its climactic chariot race.  The 2011 movie, “Zookeeper,” a giraffe died as a result of eating a piece of tarp. The 2012 movie, “The Life of Pi,” a tiger reportedly suffered a near-drowning during a scene which being filmed in a water tank. These animals are treated as if they were props and thrown into dangerous scenarios not by their own choice.

            Bullfighting is one of the harsher forms of entertainment. A bull is suddenly thrust into an arena and is repeatedly attacked until it dies. However, the story does not end there. The bull prior to the fight is abused in various ways in order to weaken and disorient them or to make them appear wild and ferocious while not actually making them so. They can have their vision blurred with petroleum jelly, deafened with cotton, horns shaved, deprived of food, and various other tortures. All of this to heavily disable the bull and make sure the “matador” is safe for the fight. On the day of the fight the bull is paraded around and attacked from the matador and his assistants. They continue until the bull can barely stand and then for the finale the matador will stab the bull until it dies. The entire performance is cruel and blatant torture of the animal.

            We are constantly involved with animals in our day to day lives and it is essential that we bring awareness to these cruelties. We should not subject animals to torture and unnatural conditions just so we can be entertained by the tricks we can have them do. Thankfully, treatment of these animals is getting better. The Animal Legal Defense Fund files high profile lawsuits and lobbies and advocates for stronger laws to protect animals used in entertainment. In movies and television, animatronics and CGI are starting to replace animals used in media. In the U.S., there are six states and over 150 localities that have passed various restrictions or bans involving the use of wild animals in circuses and traveling shows. We are taking steps to making these animals lives better and stopping the worst cruelty.

Your Pleasure, Their Pain:The Problem with Central Park’s Horse Drawn Carriages

Gabrielle Scibetta

As an animal protection organization homed in Brooklyn, New York, Voters For Animal Rights (VFAR) sheds light on the cruel and inhumane treatment of animals in New York and lobbies for stronger protections. On December 20, 2020, VFAR published a heartbreaking incident that occurred in Central Park, noting that this is hardly an isolated event. While pulling a carriage of people on a cold, snowy day, a horse by the name of Billy slipped and fell on the ice in Central Park. Rather than caring for the horse and bringing it to rest and recover, the driver allegedly forced the horse to continue pulling the passengers. As such, the VFAR organization is pushing citizens to sign a petition to #BanHorseCarriages and demanding recourse (See Photo Below. See also, ).

Historically, horse drawn carriages were the primary form of transportation, for both practical and commercial needs. As time progressed, they became a symbol of style and elegance. Nearing the end of the 1800s, motorized transportation was invented and has since taken over as the leading vessel for all travel needs.  Today, horse drawn carriages are used as a form of pleasure, attracting tourists near and far. Parading through Central Park, customers can enjoy a carriage ride and a New York City view, at the expense of a horse or two.

Voters for Animal Rights — Central Park

Until 2018, NYC’s horse drawn carriages were citywide, trotting the busy city roads among cars and busses. However, in response to the years-long controversy surrounding such carriage rides, they were re-located to Central Park – in an effort to reduce potential harm to the animal.  While this was a small victory for animal rights activists, horse and carriage operators were not pleased. In response to the City’s plan to restrict carriage pickup locations to within Central Park, one particular horse and carriage business owner, Giovanni Paliotta, brought suit against Mayor Bill De Blasio and the City of New York. The early-2019 opinion weighed the harms presented, permitting the Mayor and the city to move forward with confining carriage rides to Central Park. (See Paliotta v. De Blasio, 2019 N.Y. Misc. LEXIS 547). 

Unfortunately, such harm still exists in permitting horse drawn carriages, regardless of the location in which they service. The inhumane and cruel treatment horses face to provide trivial human enjoyment is disturbing and sad.  PETA outlines some of the harms that occur by forcing horses to pull oversized carriages in all weather extremes. While the exhaust fumes horses breathe in may cause respiratory ailments, some suffer debilitating leg problems attributed to long hours on hard surfaces. Because of their sensitive and skittish nature, horses have been known to get spooked – injuring themselves and people alike. Moreover, horses have been hit and seriously injured by reckless drivers while laboring the streets for the public’s amusement.

(See ).

On February 29, 2020, a horse was euthanized after collapsing in Central Park. Prior, on February 4, 2020, a driver lost control of a carriage horse after it stepped on an electrical plate, receiving excruciating shocks. A pedestrian watched as the horse ran several blocks, before crashing into a pole and collapsing. (See )  These incidents happen regularly and habitually, such that each should come as no surprise to legislature. State administrators are aware and yet turn a blind eye to these horrific events. Horse drawn carriage rides have actually been banned in cities such as Las Vegas, London, Toronto, Paris, and Beijing, to name a few. New York City neglects to follow suit, despite the ruthless living and working conditions employed right on their very streets. 

The Animal Welfare Act was introduced in 1966 in order to regulate the treatment of animals throughout research and exhibition. However, horses operating carriages are not protected by the Act, leaving local animal-control officials responsible for ensuring their safety. This task falls low on the list of priorities for animal-control officials, allowing major concerns like traffic accidents, heat stroke, dehydration, underfeeding, and copious other threats fly under the radar. The temporary pleasure society reaps from a 20-minute carriage ride hardly amounts to the immense pain and torture these voiceless horses face on a day-to-day basis.

Tiger King and the Push to Pass

Madelin Pereira

The beginning of quarantine can be identified by the rush to binge the latest show “Tiger King” on the streaming site Netflix. A docu-series following mad Joe Exotic, his roadside zoo, and his Big Cats. It shined a light on the issue of Big Cats in captivity and the conditions in which they live in and why this type of legislation is important. The show also drew massive attention to the federal legislative action discussed in the show, Big Cat Public Safety Act. The Big Cat Public Safety Act passed the House in December 2020 and is awaiting further action in the Senate. Originally it was introduced last year by the 116th Congress however it was not passed by the Senate before the legislative session ended. Hopefully given a public push from the series the Senate will pass the bill.

There are approximately 10,000 big cats in the U.S., and more tigers in captivity than there are in the wild according to the International Fund for Animal Welfare. While in captivity they are held in places with little oversight and accountability. Most commonly Big Cats are used in facilities with a pay to play scheme which allows the public to pet and/or take photos with the cubs. This type of operation requires constant breeding in order to make sure that there is a continuous flow of cubs to be able to continue this practice. Once they hit a certain age it is no longer safe to have the cubs with humans to which they are then sold. Moreover, the cubs involved in this practice are typically lacking nutrients that they require as a result of being removed from their mother too early. This can be seen in bone diseases, which lead to the tiger’s inability to walk. To move around, they drag their bodies.

Big Cats could also pose a public safety issue. Private ownership means that regular people without the proper training and knowledge have full ownership of these animals. This can lead to dangerous situations. Particularly because once something happens law enforcement is not trained in how to deal with the problem and their first responsibility is toward their human counterparts. This can be seen in the Zanesville, Ohio incident where a Big Cat owner decided to let his animals loose which required the police department to find all the released cats and to kill them to protect the larger community. Big Cats are wild animals that aren’t meant to be in human captivity and captivity is shown to be dangerous for the humans and the Cat.

The Big Cat Public Safety Act is a bipartisan act meant to limit the enormous amount of big cats found in the United States. The act prohibits all public contact with Big Cats, meaning that all pay for play schemes must be eliminated. Likewise, it seeks to eliminate the commerce found with Big Cats. This means that the act would make it illegal to breed, sell and transport Big Cats.

However, this statute exempts to wildlife sanctuaries, colleges and universities, state-licensed veterinarians, and facilities with a specific license from the Department of Agriculture from complying with this limitation.

The first question then is, what are we going to do with tigers that people privately own? Well, the statute stipulates that people with their own Big Cats are allowed to have them but are required to register the animal and are prohibited from breeding and from having the Big Cat near the public. So, although there will continue to be cats privately owned, they cannot use them for their commercial gain. If there are violators, then there will be a fine of up to $20,000 and could lead to possible imprisonment of up to 5 years.

While some may argue that in order to keep the Big Cats from going extinct it is necessary to continue breeding, this is not the case. They have no conservation value according to the Animal Welfare Institute. This is because of the way that the animals are bred. The breeding practices that the breeders use lead to deformities and health issues that are not found when the Big Cats are in the wild. Moreover, the Big Cats that are bred in the United States cannot be reintroduced into the wild because they do not have the skills to survive and therefore Big Cats have to be transferred in other captive environments until they die.

Although this bill will not stop the captivity of Big Cats, this step will reap large rewards to Big Cats and prevent new cubs from being handled and torture in the same manner again.

Life Inside The Tanks

Emily Lively

Since the early 1960s, approximately 166 orca whales have spent much of, if not all, their lives held captive in concrete tanks at sea parks around the globe. Today, sixty orcas still live in captivity worldwide. Twenty-nine were ripped away from their family pods in the wild, while the remaining thirty-one have never known the world outside their tank walls. But regardless of where their lives began, they all suffer the same fate – a never-ending repetitive routine of performing circus tricks for crowds of adoring humans followed by hours upon hours trapped in tiny, cramped tanks with little to do.

The primary home for most of the captive orcas in the United States is one of SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment, Inc.’s three theme parks, located in Florida, Texas, and California. One of the hallmarks of SeaWorld’s marketing strategy historically was referring to all the orcas performing in its shows as “Shamu” – the name given to the park’s first captive orca. The idea was to immortalize Shamu and, by association, all of their captive orcas. However, behind the curtain, there is a stark contrast between the lifespan of wild orcas and those held in captivity. In the wild, male orcas can live up to 50 to 60 years of age, while females can live up to anywhere from 50 to 100 years. In contrast, few captive orcas have lived beyond the age of 30.

A lower survival rate is not the only thing orcas suffer in captivity. Captive orcas are completely reliant on human trainers for food. There are no fish swimming about their tanks for them to feed on when they grow hungry. Trainers rely on food and playtime as positive training reinforcement. As such, even if unintentional, food deprivation is an integral part of a captive orca’s life. If they want to eat, they have to earn it. To earn their fish, they must perform whatever trick or task their human trainer asks of them.

During performances, orcas are regularly kept in “staging areas.” These staging areas are only 8 feet deep, allowing no range of movement for a roughly 8,000 lbs., 20-foot-long marine mammal. With multiple performances a day, captive orcas can find themselves confined without the ability to move in these staging areas for hours each day.

Even when free of the staging areas, the small concrete tanks pale in comparison to the vast expanse of the ocean. In the wild, orcas swim an average of 40 miles per day in varying directions to both hunt and for exercise. In captivity, when not performing, orcas have little to do but swim in circles. Most end up spending much of their day “logging,” meaning they lie motionless in their pools. This extended lack of activity largely contributes to the collapsing of their dorsal fins – a phenomenon rarely, if ever, seen outside of captivity. The tank designs provide little cover from the sun and intense heat, particularly during Florida and Texas summers. Captive orcas often find themselves dehydrated and sunburnt. Former trainers that have spoken out about their time with captive orcas have said the trainers sometimes needed to go as far as to use black zinc oxide to paint over and cover up sunburns on the orcas.

Orcas are highly intelligent animals, with the second largest brain of any animal. In the wild, their days are filled with socialization, stimulation, hunting, and more. Every day is different. In captivity, their days are repetitive and dull. Out of boredom, captive orcas have been known to peel and eat paint off the tank walls and grind their teeth on the metal gates separating their pools. This behavior leads to an increased risk of bacterial infection and the need for painful dental work. Other orcas are seen regurgitating their food to keep busy. Some have been known to bang their head against the tank walls. On some occasions, captive orcas have rammed so fast into a wall it’s resulted in their death. Marine behaviorists and psychologists who have studied these incidents believe the whales were committing suicide.

The release of the documentary Blackfish in 2013 provided the public with their first inside look into the lives of orcas held in captivity. Substantial public outcry at the ghastly treatment these marine mammals are subjected to led to dwindling ticket sales for SeaWorld. In response to their declining profits and lost sponsorships, SeaWorld pledged to cease its orca breeding program and begin to phase out its theatrical performance involving their captive orcas. Despite this promise, however, many of the orcas remaining in SeaWorld’s care are still young, with decades left to live, and little has been done since to alleviate the stressors of their captivity. In fact, just a year ago in January 2020, SeaWorld introduced its newest orca whale production, Orca Encounter. While the new orca show is marketed as being more educational, it’s clear the only aspect that’s changed from previous productions is the video footage that plays behind the orcas as they perform their tricks. Nearly eight years after their 2013 “pledge,” captive orcas performing circus tricks for the amusement of parkgoers still clearly remains the focal point of SeaWorld parks.

One of the strongest arguments in favor of orcas remaining in captivity is that they have become so reliant on humans that they would be unable to survive in the wild. This is true. Whales in captivity are not accustomed to hunting for their own food or surviving life in the ocean. So, the question becomes: is there an alternative to life in tanks for these orcas if they cannot be returned to the wild?

One possible alternative is a seaside sanctuary. The Whale Sanctuary Project is attempting to create a sea sanctuary that could allow these orcas to retire from their entertainment park life and live in an environment that more closely resembles their natural habitat. The Project’s mission is to provide “a natural environment that maximizes their opportunities for autonomy, exploration, play, rest, and socializing.” Humans would still continue to provide some level of care but would be far less essential to the orcas’ daily lives. They would regain a sense of independence in a far more stimulating and natural environment than a concrete tank.

While no solution is perfect, one thing is abundantly clear. For an animal meant to roam the vast expanse of the world’s oceans, life held captive in a 35 ft by 170 ft concrete tank is hardly a life at all.

For more information on the lives of captive orcas, please see:

  • John Hargrove, BENEATH THE SURFACE: Killer Whales, SeaWorld, And The Truth Beyond Blackfish (2015).
  • David Kirby, DEATH AT SEA-WORLD: Shamu and The Dark Side of Killer Whales in Captivity (2012).
  • The Blackfish film, which can be purchased on iTunes here or on Netflix with a subscription.

Lab to Bun? Could this be the Future for Meat?

Ruth Toporoff

Imagine eating as much meat as you like, without hurting an animal or damaging the environment? Without killing a single animal – you can barbecue a burger that has all the taste and texture you remember from the taste of meat?

Solutions are needed to supply the massive demand for protein. Solutions that do not contribute to animal welfare, that aid in food safety, and diminish the damage to the environment that is done by organizations such as CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations). CAFO’s operate under stressful and crowded conditions leading to the spread of disease and food safety risks. Resolutions are needed to put an end to the horrors of factory farming. Acceptable substitute products are required. What if that solution was not a substitute but in fact was actual meat? Meat that would surpass acceptable and be exceptional, all while not harming animals, circumventing contagious diseases, and not damaging the environment.   

Unlike plant-based meats, cultured meat is a lab-grown meat alternative produced from animal cells. Cell based meat products are cell-for-cell identical to the meat from animals but factory-produced from stem cells rather than from live animals. On August 5th in 2013, Dutch scientist Mark Post, founder of Mosa Meats, presented the first cell-cultured hamburger to the world. It was produced from bovine muscle cells grown in the lab and cost €250,000 ($295,000) to make. They now project a “beef” patty to cost around €9 ($10.62). While it was not perfect, it was an anti-biotic-free, slaughter-free start to a solution to the many problems of CAFO’s abuses.

Mosa Meat’s cell-based hamburger. — Supplied by the Company

The Singapore Food Agency approved the world’s first cultivated meat product for sale in December 2020. Shortly thereafter, “Restaurant 1880” in Singapore marked the first commercial sale of approved cultivated chicken bite by California-based Eats Just.

Why Change is Needed

The billions of animals “living” in cramped, filthy, overcrowded spaces with almost no room to move their antibiotic-fueled bodies create a perfect storm for the next zoonotic disease to emerge and spread. The Pandemic made it clear how animal transmission of disease thru food consumption can bring death to humans and bring down an entire world economy. It has shown how contagious disease can spread from animals to humans with the potential to harm by way of the food system.

Legislation has been ineffective to help protect the animals or enforce proper supervision thereby allowing food processing plants to perform at dangerously low standards that increase the probability of transmission of contagious viruses. The threat of disease is not new as infectious diseases such as salmonella and E. coli exist. Recent pandemic virus threats from swine flu and bird flu almost certainly evolved on chicken and pig factory farms.

Environmental Protection Agency has failed to regulate the environmental impacts. CAFO’s produce more than 1 million tons of manure daily. This waste is stored in large open lagoons which spill over into other water bodies, contaminating and killing fish populations. Consequentially, running off into our major waterways like the Great Lakes and Gulf of Mexico which impact drinking water supplies, aquatic ecosystems, etc. CAFO’s  emit pollutants that contribute to respiratory illnesses and are one of the largest emitters of methane gas emissions in the country. CAFO’s unregulated operations diminish the quality of life in neighboring communities, and often it is those of lower socioeconomic that pay the price. Complicating efforts are the corporations that have a vested interest in keeping the food system profitable above all, and are powerful enough to influence policies, so that  their profits come ahead of people’s and animal’s interests.

But a quiet revolution is taking place in labs, where scientists are working to cultivate meat and seafood grown from cells, with the potential to reduce demand for industrial animal agriculture even further.

How the change happens

Stem cells are taken from the muscle of an animal, usually with a small biopsy under anesthesia, then they are put with nutrients, salts, pH buffers, and growth factor. Next, they are left to multiply. Finessing the technology and getting the cost to an affordable level initially happening at a slower pace, but quicker with the awareness to animal transmitted disease of the Pandemic. With increased investment, products will be ready for market sooner than was ever expected.

Memphis Meats, a Berkeley startup, was founded by cardiologist Dr. Uma Valeti and cell biologist Dr. Genovese in 2015. Memphis Meats uses myosatellite cells to grow meat products, and has produced cultured chicken nuggets and beef meatballs, as well as duck tissue. In January, they raised $161 million by fundraising in the largest funding ever completed by a cultured meat company. This attracted high-profile investors, including Bill Gates and Richard Branson. It also counts meat industry giants Cargill and Tyson Foods among its backers. Additionally,  Artemys Foods,  by biochemist Jess Krieger, who has spent the past six years working in University growing cell-based meat in a lab, Berkeley-based Mission Barns, focusing on creating animal fat, which mixed with other ingredients to make duck sausages, and BlueNalu, developing seafood from fish cells through a process called “cellular aquaculture.”

Cell-based meats is not without its challenges. Without more independent reviews of the scientific data it is hard to establish necessary regulatory framework. While the USDA and FDA reached agreement on over-seeing responsibilities of the packaging, there has been no agreement on how the cell-based products will be labeled. This is a huge issue, as perception by the public is critical. Missouri has already passed legislation banning cell-cultured meat from being called “meat.” Labeling is important, because at the DNA level, this is meat. Regulation is a bigger barrier to entering the marketplace then the technology, which is ready.

One study found that cell-based beef is projected to use 95 % fewer global greenhouse gas emissions, 98 % less land and half as much energy. And since the animal cells are extracted humanely and grown in a facility rather than within the animals themselves, cell-based meat has the potential to all but eliminate animal suffering.

Helping Animals Cross the Road

Melanie Schlosser

All animals succeed by moving throughout our environments. It’s in our nature to seek resources. As people, we get around largely by driving from place to place. Other animals do not have cars, nor can they use roads like we do: instead, they must walk through yards, bolt across highways, and hope that they make it safely to the other side. Along highways, environmental corridors buffer against the backyards of residential streets. They are often tree-lined and lush to keep noise away from people. Sometimes, medians between highway lanes are similarly tree-lined and lush, landscaped with pockets of water and other attractive features. Animals that walk along one corridor might want to cross to the median –essentially another corridor—and get to the other on the far side of the highway. Without a means of safely crossing, millions of animals die by car each year.

As many people look away or cry when seeing an animal killed while crossing a road, communities have come together to petition, pass ordinances, and build structures to help animals make safer journeys across our roads. Constructing wildlife crossings can give animals a fighting chance, protecting them and people in cars from fatal collisions, as well as connecting animal migration routes. Wildlife crossings often camouflage as bridges or tunnels, or overpasses or underpasses. But, building wildlife crossings can be expensive: sometimes, reaching into the multi-millions. However, considering the steep cost of building roadways, filling potholes, and landscaping buffers and medians, it seems fair to similarly invest in the animals that fall victim to our modes of transportation. Wildlife-vehicle collisions cost Americans upwards of eight-billion dollars annually; it is intuitive to prevent animal deaths, driver deaths, and vehicle damage by collectively constructing wildlife crossings through government funding. While there are no hard and fast laws requiring wildlife crossings, it might be in the public interest for state and federal governments to protect its wildlife populations, prevent car damage, and protect car passengers from watching animals die while driving from one place to another.

 While many wildlife crossings are in designing or building phases, many have been established for years. Sometimes, specific animals like panthers are at the heart of a local crossing project. In New Jersey, ‘turtle tunnels’ have helped wood turtles safely travel from winter wetlands to their spring breeding grounds, their habitats being bisected by roads. While designed for turtles, diverse species like snakes, frogs, and raccoons have frequented the tunnels. Through the state’s Division of Fish and Wildlife, the state has committed to growing and maintaining wildlife crossings with its Connecting Habitat Across New Jersey program.

Other projects have worked directly with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. In Florida, there are at least sixty wildlife crossings built to protect panthers from collisions with vehicles; the state has found panther deaths have decreased significantly in areas with crossings. prove effective in states like Florida designed primarily to protect panthers. While building crossings above or below existing highways can be expensive, the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission notes that incorporating crossings during the design phase of a roadway can be more cost-effective.

The federal government has gotten involved in state projects, too. The Department of Transportation has initiated several projects in cooperation with state and municipal departments. States like Idaho and Colorado might have wildlife crossings installed over or under busy roads within the next few years. For an example of a project in progress, a project in Idaho started with a collection of data of the number of killed animals along a certain stretch of road and within a certain timeframe. In addition, the seasonal ranges of animal populations and their trails informed where a crossing would be most beneficial. To complete the project, several state and city departments will continue to work alongside the federal government; eventually, an overpass will be built and equipped with cameras. Whether in the form of greened tunnels or bridges, our roads are slowly becoming more friendly to our car-less friends. Wildlife crossings have already proven to reduce wildlife-vehicular collisions, enabling animals to safely move across highways. Overpasses and underpasses are also helping wildlife in more subtle and long-term ways, like through supporting migration patterns and connecting isolated populations from different corridors. Our highways are the arteries of our communities: it’s about time our local, state, and federal governments work to support the movement and health of our animal communities.

The Caribou People

Madison Roberts

Alaska, a state referred to as America’s last frontier, was heavily affected by the relaxed attitude of America’s 45th Presidential Administration. Under former President Trump’s lead, plans like the Coastal Plains Oil and Gas Program were put into motion and finalized. This program allowed a section of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in Alaska’s northeast to be leased to bidding oil companies for future use. The program was finalized in August of 2020 as one of the administration’s final environmental ruinations.  However, the story does not end with just a loss of environmental resources. Instead, the Coastal Plains Oil and Gas Program could affect so much more, as it could mean an end to the Gwich’in, the Caribou people of Alaska.

            The Gwich’in are one of the northernmost Indian Nation in America and have tribes in northeast Alaska, the northern Yukon, and Northwest Territories in Canada. While Gwich’in directly translates to “people of the land” they often refer to themselves as the caribou people. The reason for this is that 9000 Gwich’in people live along a migratory route for the Porcupine Caribou Herd. The Gwich’in have depended on the Porcupine Caribou Herd for thousands of years, and the herd provides them with food, clothing, and tools. More importantly the herd is a source of their cultural identity and is part of what makes them Gwich’in.

            The migratory route of the Porcupine Caribou Herd spans all across the Yukon and Alaska am dos traveled by 169,000 caribou. However, that route is jeopardized by the Coastal Plains Oil and Gas Program. The reason for this is that these caribou begin their route each spring on the very ground that the program is leasing and selling to bidders for oil drilling. For the caribou and the Gwich’in the coastal plains aren’t ground covering untapped oil. The coastal plains are the caribou birthing place and nursing grounds, a place so integral to Gwich’in and Caribou life that the Gwich’in call it “lizhik Gwats’ an Gwandaii Goodlit” or The Sacred Place Where Life Begins. By opening up the coastal plains to oil drilling and leasing the Trump Administration has placed the lives of the Porcupine Caribou Herd at risk, and in turn the lives of the Gwich’in.

            The Trump Administration faced several challenges during the creation of the programs. The main argument involved the Gwich’in and the environmental strain that the program would place on the Porcupine Caribou Herd. However, many of the arguments given by commentators on the program were overlooked and ignored with the same excuse. That excuse being they were not selling the right to drill for the oil yet. The Administration claimed that by only leasing a right to survey the land, and not allowing that survey to proceed at certain times the caribou would not be affected. However, this leasing right to survey came with a right to do preliminary drilling tests so that oil companies could see if the land did indeed have the expected trove of black gold lurking beneath its surface. The scientists who support opponents of ANWR drilling have found evidence that even the seismic tests that will be used to survey the land could harm the pristine environment. The administration can claim that the leasing in this situation is the final result, but it is apparent that it is only a stepping stone to further disaster.

California’s Bella’s Act took effect this year, closing a loophole to stop puppy and kitten mills for good

Megan Edwards

In 2017, California was the first state to take legislative action to ban the practice of puppy and kitten mills. These operations are generally large-scale commercial breeding facilities designed to sell animals for profit.  The animals are kept in are wildly unsafe and unsanitary conditions.  To produce the maximum amount of puppies and kittens to sell, female animals are impregnated several times a year.  Kept in rusted metal crates, these animals often do not see the light of the day.  Once the breeding animals

cease to be “useful” to the mills, they are usually either abandoned or killed.  Puppy and kitten mills can also harbor dangerous diseases that spread at these facilities and infect the animals.  While disease can run rampant at puppy/kitten mills, the animals generally lack adequate—or any—veterinary care.  The breeders also proliferate unhealthy hereditary conditions in the animals they sell, often passing over to the new pet owners an animal that will cost thousands of dollars in veterinary care.  There are around 10,000 puppy mills in operation in the United States, and over two million puppies from these mills are sold each year. 

California’s AB 485 made it illegal for any pet store operators to sell any dog, cat, or rabbit unless the animal was obtained from a shelter or rescue organization.  Maryland enacted a similar law in 2018 and New York passed a bill to end the retail sale of pets on July 21 of 2020, which was, appropriately, National No Pet Store Puppies Day.  Other cities around the country have passed bans on the retail sale of pets, such as Boston, Philadelphia, and Cook County in Chicago.  While individual states and cities are taking action, the federal government has failed to take any meaningful action to end the suffering of animals in these puppy/kitten mills.  The Animal Welfare Act is the federal legislation designed to regulate animal breeders, but these protections are so minimal and so under-enforced, commercial breeders can continue their inhumane practices essentially unchecked.

In California, breeders and business owners opposed AB 485 on several grounds.  First, these groups argue that rescue and shelter dogs are unregulated—that these shelter dogs come from potentially inhumane and unregulated locations and can harbor zoonotic disease, unlike dogs from inspected and licensed breeders.  Second, these groups argue that this bill takes away consumer choice.  They claim that consumers may be looking for a particular breed and will be forced to look for dogs in unsafe and unregulated markets.  The law is “push[ing] rescue animals on customers who never asked for them.”  These complaints are baseless.  As previously mentioned, the conditions animals are kept in at puppy mills are horrifying, and laws designed to protect these animals are under-enforced.  Additionally, retail pet sale bans don’t impact small, “hobby” breeders, who generally work directly with potential pet owners to ensure their animals will be placed in safe and loving homes.  Pet owners who don’t want a shelter animal “forced” upon them can still seek out designer or pure-bred animals from these avenues. 

Unfortunately, California’s AB 485 was not as successful as its supporters had hoped, as pet store owners in California found a loophole in the law.  An undercover exposé revealed that several puppy mill operations in the Midwest organized 501(c)(3) non-profit “shelters” in order to sell their puppies to California pet stores as “shelter” puppies.  These stores tricked consumers into believing they adopted shelter dogs, while charging thousands of dollars per dog as “adoption fees,” all while keeping puppy mills operational. 

To address this loophole, California Assembly members Gloria (D), O’Donnell (D), Bloom (D), Chiu (D), Boerner Horvath (D), and Waldron (R) sponsored AB 2152.  This bill, known as Bella’s Act, proposed to prohibit the retail sale of all dogs, cats, and rabbits in California.  Instead, pet stores would be able to provide a space for a public animal control agency, rescue group, or shelter to “showcase” their adoptable animals.  This Act also requires that the animals displayed for adoption be sterilized and requires the adoption fees not exceed $500.  The Act was named for a corgi named Bella, who was bred in a puppy mill and sold for thousands of dollars as a “rescue” in San Diego.  Bella experienced several health issues that required thousands of dollars of treatment. 

This Act was a product of the collaboration between several animal welfare organizations, including the San Diego Humane Society, Best Friends, the ASPCA, and the Humane Society of the United States, among others.  Assembly member Todd Gloria, a known champion of animal issues, introduced the bill and advocated for it in the most trying of circumstances—during the COVID-19 pandemic, where most every non-essential bill was sidelined in order to address immediate, pandemic-related needs.  However, this bill proved relevant to the state’s health and welfare, as phony rescue groups were bringing potentially sick animals in from across state borders and exposing Californians to transmittable viruses.  Due to the incredible effort of these groups, this bill was signed into law by Governor Newsom on September 18, 2020, and became effective on January 1, 2021.  With this new piece of legislation on the books, the state hopes to make progress toward ending the support for the inhumane puppy mill industry in the state.

Silencing of dogs & cats – Medically

Michelle Mattei

The medical terms for silencing animals are called ventriculocordectomy or vocal cordectomy, and laryngotomy.  It is generally performed on dogs but has occurred on cats as well.  It is also called by such names as; devocalization, debarking, dog muting, demeowing, and bark softening.  This is a barbaric, inhumane procedure to benefit troubled humans.

            The medical procedure performed to achieve this act involves either the removal or cutting the animal’s vocal cords.  There are two surgical approaches to commit this horrible act.  One is cutting into the neck, down through the larynx, called a laryngotomy, where the veterinarian will either sever or remove the vocal cord tissue.  The second approach is called a ventriculocordectomy, where the veterinary goes down through the animal’s mouth to sever or remove the vocal cords.

There are several inherent risks related to these procedures, such as; general anesthesia, post-surgical infection, postoperative pain and discomfort, bleeding, acute airway swelling, respiratory distress, noisy breathing, collapse, increased coughing, webbing, and gagging, significant increase of heat intolerance and compromised airway access.  The lack of barking ability also increases the risk of the dog’s physical safety since it can no longer warn and alert.  This also crosses over to behavioral and psychological issues due to inflicting the inability to communicate verbally.  Overall, these factors lead to a lower quality of life for the victims of these procedures.

            Even when the vocal cord is served, there is the possibility for the animal to regain its ‘voice’ again, only to be put through another operation to remove the vocal cords entirely.  The ‘voice’ of the animal is, in most cases, not totally removed but is replaced with an unnatural sound that is presented as; muffled, wheezing, higher-pitched, rasping, harsher, and screeching.  The ‘voice’ of some of these dogs sound like they are crying out for help in the embedded link.

Who is requesting this procedure to be done?  There are a variety of answers, which are all incomprehensible.  Some breeders recommend this procedure if the potential new owner is concerned with the dog’s purchase due to barking concerns.  Trainers have been known to suggest this procedure with problem dogs that cannot be trained.  Shelters at times turn to this procedure to quiet problem dogs.  Hoarders will use this technique to bring less attention to themselves.  Various institutions where animals are used in experiments make use of this procedure since dogs’ barking have a detrimental effect on the research staff.  Some landlords place devoicing requirements as part of lease conditions to avoid the hassle they will receive from other tenants’ noise complaints.  In other cases, courts will step in and order a dog to be devocalized.

A rational thought such as shouldn’t these procedures be illegal come to mind.  In more than 20 countries, it is unlawful; sadly, there is no Federal statute in the US that makes these procedures illegal.  You would hope that most States would have laws on their books making these reprehensible procedures illegal, but tragically only six States currently offer some marginal protection.  The States of Massachusetts, Maryland, and New Jersey allow this practice if it is determined by a licensed veterinarian to be “medically necessary.”  Pennsylvania allows the procedure with the only stipulation that the procedure is done by a licensed veterinarian utilizing anesthesia.  The Statues in California and Rhode Island are also very weak; they only speak to disallowing the practice if it is a condition in a real estate agreement.

Logic would turn to the veterinary community to speak out against these procedures; they do to some extent.  The American Animal Hospital Association states that it “is opposed to the practice known as debarking, canine devocalization, or vocal cordectomy.  Devocalization for inappropriate and excessive vocalization is often ineffective in achieving the desired results and can deprive canines of performing a normal behavior. Appropriate behavioral modification efforts should be employed that avoid the use of punishment or aversive methods. When deemed necessary, devocalization should only be performed by qualified, licensed veterinarians as a final alternative to relinquishment or euthanasia. Exceptions to this statement would be in the rare case of airway obstruction or laryngeal paralysis, which cannot be addressed through other surgical procedures.”  The American Veterinary Medical Association takes a similar stance.  The Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association provides only a Devocalization Fact Sheet.  The six-page fact sheet offers no stance on the procedure; they refer you to discuss your concerns with your licensed veterinarian.  The Devocalization Fact Sheet does make reference to veterinary schools stating that that the “devocalization procedures are not widely included in veterinary medical school curricula.”  You would hope that the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges (AVMC) would offer some type of position on devocalization, they do not.  The AVMC also does not provide a stance on ear cropping, cat declawing, or tail docking.


  Dogs do not bark intentionally to annoy humans; they use their bark as their ‘voice’ to communicate various emotions and appeals.  They voice to say “hello” to humans and non-humans and directly to their own kind.  They use their ‘voice’ to ask for help, to alert others that someone else needs help, they alert to danger for themselves and others.  Can their ‘voice’ get annoying at times? Yes, just like when humans do not know when to hold their ‘voice.’ 

There are many viable and proven alternatives to reduce or eliminate unwanted barking rather than the inhumane extreme of devoicing.  Basic training of the dog as well as the human companion can generally resolve the issue.  Other options include; environmental enrichment, exercise, doggy daycare, soundproofing, ultrasonic devices, Thunder Shirts, DAP (Dog Appeasing Pheromones) diffusers, no-bark collars that dispense citronella, and even the use of static shock collars if used appropriately.  There should be no case for devocalization with all these alternatives unless the only other approach offered is euthanasia.

Canine Covid-19 Detectors

Bianca De Leon

For years canines have been trained to use their nose to sniff out cancers, malaria, and other human illnesses. With the increasing rise in Covid-19 cases across the globe as well as the overwhelming desire to restart our economy, canines are now being trained to detect the Covid-19 virus.

Canines have approximately 300 million scent receptors which allow them to detect tiny concentrations of odor. Scientists are using this unique ability to help detect Covid-19 in humans and ultimately stop the spread of this highly contiguous virus. So, what does it take to train a canine to detect Covid-19? Scientists are training canines to smell samples, most often of sweat, in sterile containers, and to sit or paw the floor when the canine detect signs of the infection. Several trials have been conducted

the pandemic began. Trials at airports in the United Arab Emirates, Finland, and Lebanon are using canines to detect the virus in passengers’ sweat samples, which are then tested against conventional Covid-19 tests. These tests are reporting an overwhelming accuracy by the canines. Scientists believe this success is due to the canine’s ability to pick up on a specific scent produced by volatile organic compounds that are generated by catabolites—substances produced by the replication of the virus that escapes the body through sweat. Other trials used saliva and tracheobronchial secretions. In a report by BMC in July 2020, it was reported that after one week of training BMC’s canines, the canines were able to detect the virus using saliva and tracheobronchial secretions, with an overall average detection rate of 94%.

While there are some limitations—one being that the FDA has not approved this method of screening—scientists still believe this is a promising first step in canine Covid-19 detection. So, promising that the Miami Heat just announced that they will be using Covid sniffing dogs to screen fans at games. According to the Heat representatives, fans arriving for the game will be brought to a screening area where a detection dog will walk past each fan. If the dog keeps going, the fan is cleared. But if the dog sits—a sign that the canine has detected the virus—the fan will be denied entry and issued a full refund. If a fan is allergic to or afraid of dogs, the fan can instead take a rapid antigen test.

For many of us—humans—detection dogs represent a glimpse of light and hope as Covid cases total over 99 million worldwide, but what about these detection dogs? As we know by now, Covid is extremely contiguous. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), dogs, as well as other mammals, can become infected with the virus after close contact with a human infected with the virus. Once infected, pets can spread the virus to other animals. Pets can also spread the virus to human, although the risk according the CDC is relatively low. Therefore, the CDC recommends that pet owners treat pets as they would any other human family members—i.e., it is recommended that pets owners not allow pets to interact with people outside of their household to avoid possible exposure to the virus. The CDC also recommends that if a person within their household becomes sick, that person should be isolated from everyone, including the household pet.

While the use of these detection dogs means decreasing the spread of the virus and restarting our economy as demonstrated by the Miami Heat and various airports, what does it mean for detection dogs? For the detection dog to detect the presence of the virus, the dog needs to come into close contact with its target, meaning the detection dog is essentially increasing its possible exposure to this deadly virus. This leads us to many unanswered questions. One question is, are these detection dogs being tested regularly for the virus? An important question especially with the discovery of the new variant—which is said to be more contiguous and more deadly than the previous variant. Another question is, if a dog test positive for the virus, what systems and/or procedures are in place to ensure the dog is properly isolated and receives proper treatment? Pets—like humans—who tested positive for Covid-19, have experienced different symptoms. Some pets have experienced mild illness while others have experienced no symptoms at all. Symptoms or not, one infected detention dog, can infect an entire airport or arena. Furthermore, Finally, if the dog loses its ability to sniff out the virus after contracting the infection—loss of smell and loss of taste being a common symptom of the Covid-19—where does the dog go? What happens to the dog? Obviously, the dog will be out of a job, but will the organization utilizing the detection dog be responsible for finding the dog a loving home similar to the practice employed with retired K9 dogs? One would hope so, as it would be inhumane and unfair for these canines to end up at crowded shelter for doing their job, but I guess only time will tell!

Are Bloodless Bullfights Much Better than Traditional Bullfighting?

Danielle Maffei

While bullfighting is prohibited in a number of countries around the world, there still are some countries that continue practicing this inhumane tradition, such as Spain, France, Portugal, Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela, Peru and Ecuador. Some cities in Spain have banned bullfighting; however, in contrast, there are other Spanish cities such as Valencia and Madrid that have bullfighting schools, which teach children as young as 9 years old the “art” of bullfighting.

In these countries, the bulls stand no chance. The bulls are weakened significantly before the fights with either drugs or having sandbags dropped on their backs. Further, before the fight, their horns are shaved to keep them off balance, and they might have petroleum jelly rubbed into their eyes to worsen their vision. The bulls also have their necks and backs pierced with barbed lances, which impairs the bulls’ ability to lift their heads. During the fight, bullfighters stab them with banderillas (shown in the picture below), or sticks with a sharp point on the end, weakening the bulls even more, until the bulls becomes dizzy from blood loss. Finally, the bullfighter will try to sever the bull’s aorta, which would kill the bull quickly; however, more times than not, the bullfighter misses the aorta, and only maims and tortures the bull even more. If the bull is not killed in the arena, he is dragged out of the arena by his horns and killed later.

Bullfighting is not federally prohibited in America. What is prohibited nationally, however, is killing the bull in the arena as a finale of the bullfight. State statutes address whether certain types of bullfighting is permitted in its jurisdiction. For instance, the California legislature banned bullfighting in 1957; however, the statute included a religious exemption, which permitted bloodless bullfights (not to be confused with the alleged anti-cruel sport, rodeo clowning, which entails rodeo clowns actually riding the bull, as seen in the picture below). Anti-cruelty statutes in Wisconsin and Texas ensure that bloodless bullfights are an exception and are not banned. Other states, such as Rhode Island and Florida, have an explicit ban on bullfights of all forms.

Bulls are supposedly not injured nor killed in bloodless bullfights; thus, supporters contend that this alternative is more humane and cruelty-free. A bloodless bullfight involves a Velcro adaption of the banderilla and placing Velcro on the bull’s back, which causes less harm to the bull because the sharp point is replaced with a Velcro tip. This method has the same visual effect as the banderilla latching onto the bull’s back.

Still, this practice consists of intentionally aggravating and provoking the bull, causing the bull to have significant stress and exhaustion. Even with the Velcro banderilla, the bulls are nevertheless exploited and suffer at the expense of human entertainment. Further, there is most likely unseen abuse toward these bulls outside of the arena, and, although bulls are not killed in the arena, they are typically taken to a slaughterhouse afterward, or they are used again and again in these fights until they are no longer able to participate. When that occurs, they are killed.

In order to avoid animal cruelty altogether in bullfighting, it seems that the best approach is to prohibit bullfighting throughout the nation. It is indisputable that bulls are essentially tortured in these fights, bloodless or not, and the ultimate result for these bulls is inevitably death. Even if, for argument’s sake, the bulls are not slain in the conclusion of their fighting careers, the whole nature of the “sport” encourages violence and aggression toward the bulls and is therefore inhumane.

Moreover, in regards to California’s statutory exemption for religion, it is clear that bullfighting is more of a cultural activity versus a religious one. Bullfighting, according to many supporters, is an “art” and a “tradition,” when, in truth, it is actually a sadistic form of entertainment –– which, if banned, would not violate anyone’s fundamental right of practicing religion. Consequently, bullfighting should not be constitutionally protected. Cockfighting and dog fighting are also viewed as cultural activities, but they are banned in more than half the states throughout the country under anti-cruelty laws, so what difference does it make to ban bullfighting as well? Additionally, why would bullfighting not be included in these anti-cruelty laws to begin with? Each “sport” incites violence and torture and always results in the animals’ unnecessary and cruel deaths.

Such a sport does not belong in America, or any civilized society. There are several traditional activities that have been abandoned, and bullfighting should unquestionably be added to that list. Despite the argument that the bulls are not tortured or killed in the arenas, it is evident that the bulls still undergo violence and are exploited, and the bulls are eventually slaughtered regardless. Therefore, is bloodless bullfighting any better than traditional bullfights? It does not seem so.

Titers – education – viable alternative to over-vaccination

Michelle Mattei

            Titers is a word that some vets embrace, causes eye rolls from others, and for still many, an opportunity to launch into a diatribe akin to a Greek tragedy.  So why is this word causing so much controversy and agita between companion animal parents and some vets?  So let’s start with defining what a titer is.  As a human, we come across this when we apply to attend a university.  Most universities, either by State statute or university policy, ask for proof of vaccination against certain infectious diseases, the most common being MMR – measles, mumps, and rubella (German measles).  The prospective student contacts their pediatrician for a copy of their immunization records to show proof of vaccination.  If the immunization record cannot be located, the prospective student has two choices, get re-vaccinated or go for a titer test.  A titer is a test that requires blood to be drawn and sent for analysis to determine the level of antibodies against specific disease types.  Antibodies are a natural reaction to an antigen.  The body produces an antigen (stimulus) in response to an infection triggered by a virus, bacteria, or a vaccine.  The titer test results will provide evidence if antibodies are present in your system to provide proof of either vaccination or that you contracted a specific infection.  The titers test can be done on non-human animals to show which antibodies appear in their bloodstream.  In either case, if the antibodies are present, there is, in most cases, no need for revaccination. 

Titer tests for non-human animals have been used for several decades.  Still, the recent shift towards the increased use of titers is based on over-vaccination concerns, not only based on the vaccines themselves but also the frequency of boosters vaccinations and the expansion of non-core vaccines for a litany of different diseases.  The traditional core vaccines for dogs have generally been for; Canine rabies virus, Canine distemper virus (CDV), Canine parvovirus (CPV-2), and Canine adenovirus (hepatitis).  Depending on which of many guidelines are offered, Canine parainfluenza (flu) is either consider a core or non-core vaccine.  Non-core vaccines for dogs generally are considered to be; Bordetella bronchiseptica (kennel cough), Lyme disease, Leptospirosis, Coronavirus, and Giardia.

            So why is the titer topic so controversial with some vets?  Well, it depends on your vet, the type of vet you go to, how your vet chooses to interpret the science, and their financial motivation.  If your vet is traditional, they will likely suggest not only the core vaccines but also non-core vaccines based on their own set of beliefs, based on their interpretation of current scientific or non-scientific findings.  A holistic vet will tend to divert away from the vaccine guidelines and suggest the titer

There is yet another group of vets who are employed by large corporations that promote as part of their corporate governance policy or franchise agreement that the vets are required to encourage the use of vaccines both core and noncore, re-vaccination should vaccination be in doubt, and repeated boosters on an annual basis, all to meet their financial targets.  As a non-human animal parent, doesn’t this make you start to wonder and question?

Here are some interesting statistics that should bring additional questions and concerns to mind in your decision-making process.  There is a more extensive list as part of the embedded link.

  • Only ~40% of veterinarians follow the current WSAVA, AVMA, AAHA, CVMA vaccine guidelines
  • They can offer separated vaccine components, rather than give them all together, since the published data show more adverse reactions when multiple vaccines are given
  • Rabies vaccine is often given with other boosters for convenience, when this is ill advised, as Killed, inactivated vaccines like rabies make up 15% of veterinary biologicals used, but 85% of the post-vaccination reactions. Use only thimerosal (mercury) – free rabies vaccines
  • There is no such thing as an ‘up to date’ or ‘due’ vaccination
  • Vaccination may not equate to immunization
  • Giving boosters to immunized animals is unwise, as it introduces unnecessary antigen, adjuvant and preservatives
  • Heavy metal exposure from vaccines is an emerging concern for humans, pets and livestock
  • Half-dose CDV + CPV vaccines in small adult dogs sustained protective serum antibody titers
  • No evidence that annual boosters are necessary; need to lengthen the interval to every 3 yrs
  • Geriatric animals vaccinated only with caution

Just like not all veterinarians are the same when it comes to vaccines and titers, some veterinary schools are taking a more rational stance when it comes to this issue.  The College of Veterinary Medicine at Kansas State University states, “Vaccine titers have been gaining more acceptance over the past few years to reduce the frequency of vaccination. In order to be useful, two criteria need to be met: 1) One needs to be able to detect a measurable immunity (antibody) to a disease in a blood sample, and 2) There needs to have been challenge studies performed to associate protection with that specific titer level. A challenge study shows that animals which have a specified antibody titer did not get sick when exposed to the disease for which the titer was checked.”  Let’s all hope that more veterinary schools will promote this view and the other points stated on the College’s website.

My personal experience was to leave my companion animals veterinary practice after 30 years with them when they attempted to scare me and deter me away from titers.  Our current vet is a blend of traditional when needed as well as holistic.  This article is meant to challenge the old ways and introduce you and your companion animal family and beyond to possible alternatives.

Colorado Combats Animal Cruelty

Kristin Jones

Every year, more than 10 million animals die from abuse in the United States alone. Unfortunately, not all animal abuse cases are reported. Therefore, in reality, this number is likely over 100 million. In addition, of these likely 100 million cases of animal abuse, only a fraction of the offenders are actually prosecuted. This disparity means something needs to change in terms of animal abuse prosecution, and there must be stricter laws to protect these animals from further abuse.

In an attempt to fight against animal cruelty, Colorado Governor Jared Polis signed House Bill 19-1092, also known as Animal Ban For Cruelty to Animals Conviction, which concerns a prohibition on the future ownership of an animal for persons convicted of animal cruelty. The bill prohibits those convicted of aggravated cruelty to animals from owning, possessing, or caring for a pet animal for upwards of five years from the date of their conviction. The bill also allows judges to sentence offenders to complete an anger management program, mental health treatment program, or any other appropriate treatment program designed to address the underlying causative factors for the violation. This aspect of the bill is particularly valuable as some acts of animal cruelty, such as animal hoarding, are strongly linked to mental illness and can respond to treatment. Thus, without treatment, the abuser will likely repeat the behavior.

To date, most states do not have mandatory requirements prohibiting convicted animal abusers from owning or possessing animals. Twenty-one states have permissive possession bans (Alabama, Alaska, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming), which means the court decides whether the defendant should be prohibited from owning or possessing animals. Seventeen states have mandatory possession bans (California, Colorado, Delaware, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, Oregon, Rhode Island, Washington, and West Virginia) requiring courts to prohibit ownership for a designated period of time. It is crucial for the latter number to increase as possession bans are one of the most effective ways to prevent repeat offenses. These bans restrict the abuser’s access to animals, limiting their pool of potential victims.


Although Colorado’s bill is a great start to keep animals out of the hands of their abusers, there is still significant room for improvement. For example, the prohibition period of three to five years is such a trivial amount of time to forbid an animal abuser from owning a pet. A child abuser can be permanently stripped of their parental rights, but in three to five years, an animal abuser can once again own the very thing that was their victim. Without proof of rehabilitation, who says that the offender will not simply repeat what they have done in the past. Convicted abusers should never be allowed to own an animal again, or they must prove that they have been rehabilitated in order to own one in the future. In addition, the law will be enforced like a restraining order, which would rely on a report that the offender is in possession of an animal or a routine check revealing such. The problem with this is that since courts simply treat this as a violation of a court order, it is often unenforceable.

Other flaws of the bill include the fact that it only protects “pet animals.” This is problematic because about 97% of all abused and killed animals yearly are farm animals. These animals are simply seen as part of business and, as a result, are drugged and confined only to produce more milk and eggs, breed more offspring, and die. Thus, the bill’s limited protection of only “pet animal” leaves those who are most subject to abuse vulnerable to repeated mistreatment by their offender. The bill also does not require the prohibition of animal ownership for those convicted of misdemeanor animal cruelty. This means that it is up to the judge’s discretion on whether or not to forbid the ownership of animals for misdemeanor offenses. Although it does still allow for the prohibition of ownership, required bans would be more effective in keeping animals away from their abusers.

Though there is room for improvement, this is a great start in the fight against animal cruelty as it holds those people responsible for animal abuse accountable for their actions. Other states should follow in Colorado’s footsteps to begin strengthening their law punishing animal abusers.

Poverty and Poaching: can CITES or the Convention on Biological Diversity stop the one of the root causes of the illegal wildlife trade?

Jennifer Timmons

In 2015 the United Nations created Sustainable Development Goal 15.7. That goal specifically addresses the urgent need to end poaching but despite this goal, the illegal wildlife trade is still one of the most profitable illegal enterprise in the world, bringing in up to 23 billion dollars a year. Wildlife trafficking can be done through complex crime syndicates or individuals looking for a quick buck. However, many high value crimes that make news headlines often trace back to an individual shooter who is usually a poor resident of the area where the poaching took place. With no way to make ends meet, these people turn to poaching to feed their families. A rhino poacher approached an investigative journalist and explained how he did not want to poach rhinos because it was so dangerous, but he had no other way to feed his family. The journalist discusses how the communities in his documentary are located on the outskirts of national parks in Africa, where there is very little means to earn a living. (Nick Read, The Traffickers: Killed for a Horn, NETFLIX 2016) It’s seen all over the world, the poorest communities struggle to survive and turn to poaching. Since wildlife trafficking includes so many different players, and usually involves crossing national borders, international agreements are needed to address the pressing issue of poverty threatening wildlife. There needs to be a way to provide aid to hard-to-reach places in developing counties, with a focused on specifically targeting communities with high poaching. Two international agreements come to mind when discussing the illegal wildlife trade, CITES and the Convention on Biological Diversity, but are they up to the task or do they fall short of their duties?

CITES aims to provide protection to all animals (and even plants) that are threatened or endangered. According to World Wildlife Fund, “CITES, which stands for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, is a global agreement among governments to regulate or ban international trade in species under threat.” CITES is broken in to three trade categories: Appendix 1, Appendix 2, and Appendix 3. Appendix 1 is the most restrictive and includes critically endangered plants and animals. Appendix 1 species are completely prohibited from trade, except for rare cases involving scientific research.  This includes live, dead, and animal parts. According to World Wildlife Fund, CITES is heralded as one of the best tools to combat the illegal wildlife trade with over 183 member Parties regulating more than 35,000 species. However, CITES seems only partially to work by specifically targeting end consumers and not addressing poverty, one of the causes of poaching. CITES does not have a mechanism for developing a means to give alternative jobs to communities who participate in poaching, or addressing the issues of how poaching and poverty have a correlation. An approach is needed within CITES that would be different from a blanket aid package. Its goal should be to specifically seek out communities where poaching is the primary way to make a living, dissect the root causes of poverty (i.e. gangs, lack of public services, etc.), and address those issue.  CITES targets the end market but not the base of the problem. An approach is needed to target both ends of the trafficking cycle and CITES fails to do that.

The Convention on Biological Diversity (TCBD) likewise fails to target communities with high poaching. TCBD is focused on: the conservation of biological diversity, the sustainable use of the components of biological diversity, and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising out of the utilization of genetic resources. TCBD was not necessarily created to deal with poaching and the illegal wildlife trade as mentioned in TRAFFIC’s Briefing on the Scope and Content of the Post2020 Global Biodiversity Framework report, “The Aichi Targets in the [T]CBD’s Strategic Plan to 2020 do not include a target specific to trade in wildlife, despite illegal and unsustainable trade being one of the key drivers of biodiversity loss, and sustainable, well-managed legal wildlife trade having a scope for providing benefits to all from biodiversity and ecosystem services.” However, there is a section in the TCBD called Sustainable Wildlife Management which states that one of its goal is to tackle “Multidisciplinary approaches in sustainable wildlife management, including alternative livelihoods.” This section of the TCBD could easily focus on creating pathways for communities turning to poaching for a living to find alternative livelihoods. Unfortunately, TCBD falls short and has only focused on the bushmeat trade and not poaching as a whole. Another issue as stated by TRAFFIC in the earlier quote, is that there are no targets or benchmarks for meeting the goals. It’s not easy to implement a strategy as complex as providing possibly millions of people with alternative livelihoods with no way of telling if the implementation strategy is even working. In the end, TCBD fails to address poverty and poaching in a wholistic way.

While CITES is what usually comes to mind when discussing the illegal wildlife trade, TCBD has a better section that can address poaching specifically linked to poverty. Currently neither is addressing poverty as a significant factor to poaching, CITES targets the consumer, while TCBD focuses on biodiversity and genetic sharing. However, these are only two of the many international conventions, agreements, and treaties that could possibly address poverty to stop the illegal wildlife trade. Poverty is a complex issue and its causes vary greatly. While not every poaching incident may be directly related to poverty, and a great many aren’t, there is still enough of a correlation to be greatly concerned, especially when many of these people don’t want to be poaching in the first place. One thing is certain both CITES and TCBD do not address the issue. It’s interesting that poverty is not predominant in two conventions that specifically address issues concerning wildlife, when poverty is such a danger to it.

A Proposed Bill in New York Seeks to Prohibit the Shipment of Live Animals by Mail After Recent USPS Delays Reveal Devastating Impacts

Nicolette Merlino

On February 4, 2021, New York Assemblymember Linda B. Rosenthal introduced a bill (A4611) which, if enacted, would amend New York’s agriculture and marketing law to prohibit the shipment of certain “live animals” by postal mail into or within the state of New York and from the state of New York to points outside the State. 

The proposed legislation is a response to the devastating impact that recent USPS setbacks are having on the lives of animals shipped by postal mail. As a result of drastic financial cuts, USPS has recently experienced an elevated level of shipment delays and heightened reports of lost mail. Shipping live animals through the postal system is a common practice in the United States as it is generally a less expensive alternative to other transportation methods. However, recent delays have resulted in some vendors suspending USPS shipments after an increased number of animals arrived dead in the mail. While mail carriers are subject to precautions to ensure the safe delivery of animals, such attempts are clearly inadequate where increased delay is inevitable. For example, in August of 2020, it was reported that thousands of live chicks were being delivered dead in the northeast. In many of the cases, the live chicks were left inside warehouses for up to 75 hours before delivery. According to concerned veterinarians, a major issue with the shipment of birds by postal mail is the inability to regulate the temperature necessary to keep chicks warm. The consequences are especially detrimental to chicks because they are generally shipped when newly hatched. As such, these mailed chicks often spend a critical learning period inside a dark box.

The United States Postal Service has allowed for the shipment of certain live animals since 1918. USPS guidelines designate which animals are considered “legally mailable” subject to the requirement that “proper conditions” are met. According to the USPS website, “mailable animals,” include adult birds and day-old “poultry,” such as chickens, ducks, geese, turkeys, and partridges, other small, harmless cold-blooded animals, like frogs, toads, and baby alligators, as well as certain insects. The United Parcel Service (UPS) similarly permits the shipment of small, harmless cold-blooded animals, all fish, and non-nuisance insects.

While the recent postal crisis has resulted in a spike in the number of animal fatalities, the harmful impacts associated with the practice of transporting animals through the mail are well-established. According to a January 2013 article by Farm Sanctuary, more than one hundred chicks mailed that month from Texas and expected to arrive Alabama traveled close to one thousand miles in the wrong direction as a result of mailing address error. The chicks ended up in Washington D.C., where the package sat unclaimed at a post office until postal workers eventually realized the problem and contacted animal control. A similar event occurred in July of 2015, where a box containing sixteen chicks and mailed from Wisconsin arrived to and remained at a New York post office unclaimed. Despite the fact that the package contained several live chicks, postal workers almost stamped the box “Return to Sender.” Fortunately, in this case, a concerned postal worker the chicks in the box and took them home to care to them. For many animals, however, the result of having to travel back several days to the return address could be the difference between life and death. Notwithstanding the apparent serious consequences, this standard procedure is implemented on all unclaimed packages, including those holding live animals.

            The proposed New York bill defines “live animal” relatively broadly, as meaning “any mammal, bird, reptile, or amphibian.” The ban would prohibit both the shipment of “live animals” out of and into the State of New York. As such, if enacted, the legislation would represent a positive step in the advancement and recognition of animal welfare. However, like much of the legislation enacted for the benefit of animals, potential constitutional issues have emerged. Following the bills proposal, commentators raised possible preemption issues as the law would serve to prohibit practices that would otherwise be legal under Federal law. Specifically, the broad definition of “live animals” would effectively incorporate a large majority of  the “mailable animals,” currently legally shippable under USPS guidelines. Thus, there is a possibility that the proposed bill, if challenged under the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution of the United States, would be considered invalid. 

The Case Against Captivity

Marissa O’Connor

Zoos across the nation love to boast about their conservation efforts to save species and market themselves as the 5-star Caribbean island resorts of the animal world. The average person would agree with the notion that captivity means longer lifespans for animals since there are no predators, around-the-clock medical care, and nutritional meals provided. While this may be the case for some smaller, more prey vulnerable species, this is not the case for many keystone species; species that should be a priority for conservation. Marine mammals, elephants, giant pandas, and cheetahs are examples of keystone species that are notoriously difficult to establish effective husbandry for in captivity. Consequentially, these species are the most popular animals that zoos can house and are therefore likely the most miserable.

Marine mammal species, notably dolphins and whales, are species that are especially unsuitable for captivity. Marine mammals often swim up to hundreds of nautical miles a day and have unique, sensitive family structures. The natural environment of marine mammals can never be mimicked in a captive setting and deprives the mammals of the environment they need to be healthy, subsequently, captive marine mammals often show signs of psychological and physical trauma. Killer whales in captivity are infamous for their dorsal fin collapse, which is experienced by all captive male orcas and many females. In the wild, however, dorsal fin collapse is only seen in about one percent of killer whales. Moreover, many marine mammals rely on sonar to communicate and navigate their surroundings. Due to their extremely limited environment, these marine mammals are forced into a perpetual motion of endless circles around their tanks. The human equivalent is, quite literally, solitary confinement.

Moreover, while dolphins and whales are subjected to a life of solitary confinement, aquariums are aware of another ocean behemoth unsuitable for captivity. Despite repeated efforts across the planet, aquariums have never been able to successfully house an adult great white shark. In 2004, the Monterey Bay Aquarium managed to sustain a 4-foot great white shark for a mere 198 days, the longest in record. Before this stint, the longest a great white shark was able to survive in an aquarium was only 16 days. The Monterey Bay Aquarium, until recently, was unable to curve their appetite for displaying a great white shark, and many other aquariums still have “great white exhibition programs”. Knowing the captive stints will likely cause the shark to die, these futile attempts to house great white sharks seek to satisfy human curiosity only, instead of species preservation.

Marine mammals are not the only species to suffer in captivity, elephants are also afflicted. A study published in 2008 in Science Magazine reported that their data suggests that female elephant’s health and overall well-being are so compromised in captivity their lifespans are less than half the median life span of protected populations in Africa and Asia. More specifically, Asian elephant calves are especially compromised and have an unusually high infant mortality rate. In captive African elephants, the median life span was 17 years, in the wild, it is 56. For captive Asian zoo elephants, the median was 19 years, in wild it was almost 42.

Like many other wildlife species, the giant panda’s population has been decreasing due to habitat loss and deforestation. Being such a charismatic animal, conservation efforts had no issue devoting vast resources to preserving the population. Giant pandas are often used as the face of conservation, and the World Wildlife Fund sports the giant panda as their mascot. The captive breeding programs have very low success rates, however, and while captive breeding and reintroduction to the wild have helped numerous other species, this is not the case for the giant panda. Conservationists devoted to the giant pandas frequently recognize that captive breeding of pandas will not be successful in saving the species from extinction. Similar to the great white shark, zoos are reluctant to come to the conclusion they are not successful in conserving the giant panda. Some zookeepers have resorted to extreme lengths to restore the natural instincts they stripped from the panda by showing them footage of other pandas mating, and by forced breeding.

Like many other wildlife species, the giant panda’s population has been decreasing due to habitat loss and deforestation. Being such a charismatic animal, conservation efforts had no issue devoting vast resources to preserving the population. Giant pandas are often used as the face of conservation, and the World Wildlife Fund sports the giant panda as their mascot. The captive breeding programs have very low success rates, however, and while captive breeding and reintroduction to the wild have helped numerous other species, this is not the case for the giant panda. Conservationists devoted to the giant pandas frequently recognize that captive breeding of pandas will not be successful in saving the species from extinction. Similar to the great white shark, zoos are reluctant to come to the conclusion they are not successful in conserving the giant panda. Some zookeepers have resorted to extreme lengths to restore the natural instincts they stripped from the panda by showing them footage of other pandas mating, and by forced breeding.

Aside from their notoriety for being difficult to keep in captivity, all of these species are lucrative for zoos to keep on display as conservation efforts, successful or not, attract large amounts of tourists. The reluctance of zoos to end unsuccessful conservation programs directly negates their goal of conservation and causes continuous harm to these species. The case for captivity is usually focused on the improved longevity of lifespans, but what good are longer lifespans if the animal is suffering? Extending the lifespan of a species while depriving it of everything else is not conservation, it is cruelty.