Chemically Castrate the Swamp

  Alexis Tomaino

Atrazine wreaks havoc on the sex lives of adult male frogs, emasculating three-quarters of them and turning one in 10 into female. The 75 percent that are chemically castrated are essentially “dead” because of their inability to reproduce in the wild. The 10 percent (or more) that turn from males into females – something not known to occur under natural conditions in amphibians – can successfully mate with male frogs but, because these females are genetically male, all their offspring are male. The impacts of atrazine are most pronounced in frogs because they have highly permeable skin that can easily absorb the chemical. Exposure to atrazine at levels as low as 0.1 parts per billion has been shown to affect the development of sex characteristics in frogs. 

            Based on the evidence that atrazine is an endocrine disruptor to amphibians, the EPA should ban the use of Atrazine.  First, frogs are vital to a healthy ecosystem and their disappearance can disturb an intricate food web with cascading effects felt throughout an entire ecosystem. As tadpoles, they eat algae, helping regulate blooms and reducing the chances of algal contamination. As adults, their consumption of insects helps control populations, including adult mosquitoes and their larvae that can transmit diseases including Dengue fever, Malaria, West Nile fever and Zika.  Frogs are also an important source of food for a variety of animals, including birds, fish, and snakes.  But more fundamentally, frogs have existed for nearly 300 million years and have a right to exist unmolested.  As frogs are currently threatened by disease, pollution, habitat loss, invasive species and climate change, their populations have declined dramatically since the 1950s, and it is believed more than 120 species have already become extinct since 1980s.  Failure of the EPA to take action to protect frogs from the harmful effects of atrazine is tantamount to ignoring its mission to “reduce environmental risks … based on the best available scientific information.”

            Instead the Trump EPA has loosened restrictions on atrazine following the tenure as EPA adviser of Jeff Sands, a former pesticide-industry lobbyist for Syngenta.  Sands’s presence at the EPA drew criticism when the EPA scaled back a $4.8 million fine levied against Syngenta during the Obama years for violating pesticide regulations that resulted in the sickening of farm workers in Hawaii. The Trump EPA settled this case for a tiny fraction of $150,000, though the EPA also ordered Syngenta to spend a minimum of $400,000 to conduct worker training on how to use pesticides. Although Sands has asserted he did not influence these EPA decisions, Sands’s connection to Syngenta muddies the water and is in line with other actions from Trump’s EPA, which has focused on reducing regulatory burdens on industry and easing enforcement actions while bringing industry insiders into the administration to the detriment of the flora and fauna it is charged to protect.  

            Sands’s employment was permitted because of an ethics waiver in which the White House allowed Sands to work on issues he dealt with in the private sector because of “his deep understanding of agricultural issues forged through his previous service with Congress, a trade association and a company.” The waiver allowed him to work on issues that could affect his former industry, the agricultural sector, at large. While the waiver request did not expressly ask that he be exempted from rules prohibiting him from being involved with any agency action that would specifically affect a former employer, there is no evidence of compliance with these rules.  And although Sands’s departure from EPA in 2018 (and has subsequent employment as an adviser for Rep. Ted Yoho (Fla.), a conservative Republican lawmaker who sits on the House Agriculture Committee)  predates the November 2019 atrazine policy change announcement, the swampy smell lingers around the EPA’s decision to sacrifice frogs and promote Syngenta’s business.

Animal Mistreatment Causes Environmental Damage

Gabriela Tavarez

Pollution impacts animals just as much as it affects humans.  Human activity (factory farming, waste disposal, etc.) impacts wildlife’s habitat.  In addition, erratic and long-lasting wildfires in California have caused over a billion animals to die.  According to the National Audubon Society, even though pollution affects humans, it severely impacts birds since birds spend more time in the open air as opposed to humans.  Birds become vulnerable to catching diseases when they inhale the air.  Nonetheless, pollution affects aquatic animals when waste is disposed into waterways.  Specifically, water pollution infects the water, along with aquatic animals, which can ultimately be toxic for human consumption.

Furthermore, human activity such as factory farming lead to devastating environmental effects.  Factory farming focuses on increasing productivity and economic efficiency.  As a result, farmers are exempted from animal welfare regulation.  Such devastating effects include the deterioration of topsoil and water quality and quantity.  Meanwhile, factory animals such as pigs and cattle are confined to small spaces where they are prevented from roaming free.  Also, factory animals are forced to undergo unnatural diets.  For example, cattle are fed corn due to its low cost, in order for them to grow faster.  However, their stomachs were not designed to digest corn, so they are given antibiotics to prevent illnesses when they eat corn.  Also, factory farming releases carbon dioxide (greenhouse gases) into the atmosphere.  Particularly, livestock releases methane, which increases temperature. 

Additionally, the quality and quantity of water is dwindling as factory farming increases production.  Factory farming removes trees to create more space to raise livestock and removes other natural wildlife from their habitat.  Factory farms also demolish topsoil.  Humans rely on soil to provide nutrients for food, but factory farms dilute the soil since farmers clear the fields in order to grow crops.  Specifically, they clear fields to grow corn and soy to feed their cattle.  Many animal activists call for stricter regulations on factory farming to decrease production.  This can reduce pollution and its harmful effects on animals.  However, that is not without opposition.  Factory farmers call for minimal regulation since prohibition would lessen economic efficiency and increase the cost in meat production since grass-fed cattle is costly.  Nonetheless, people would be willing to eat grass-fed meat since it is a healthier option.  When an animal is in distress, it causes the meat to darken and becomes unsuitable for consumption.     

Factory animals are confined within lagoons where their waste can trickle into open water and affect aquatic animals.  Aquatic animals are not able to sustain these environmental changes.  The unfavorable tides and changes in water temperature expose them to new predators.  Humans also become vulnerable to diseases from drinking or swimming in the toxic water.  However, humans can choose not to swim or drink the water.  Humans can also change their habits to reduce environmental damage.  Nevertheless, aquatic animals do not have such privilege because they are forced to stay in the water.  The toxic chemicals also lead to an increase in nitrogen and phosphorus, which increases the growth of toxic algae.  Animals die from consuming toxic algae.  Factory farming demonstrates an endless cycle where one effect on a certain species can trickle down to other species.  Furthermore, high levels of mercury found in water causes behavioral and reproductive changes in aquatic animals.  It is important that humans take imperative steps to reduce the damage to wildlife.  For example, humans can stop littering on beaches, seas, lakes, rivers, etc.  When garbage is thrown into the water, it can entrap marine animals.  Most water-dwelling animals such as sea otters, become trapped in the debris and can drown from being trapped.  Water pollution even affects the soil, which humans need to grow crops for food. 

Pollution is caused by overpopulation.  Due to overpopulation, humans continue to consume resources that it forces the animal population to diminish at a rapid rate.  The human population is substantial that it exceeds the resources available to sustain it.  The environment cannot replenish itself before it is conquered by human consumption.  As the population increases, it leads to more factory farming, which increases food production and deforestation.  It also leads to waste thrown into waterways and causes an imbalance within the ecosystem.  When it comes to maximizing production and minimizing costs, the government seems to disregard the suffering of non-human species.  It is important that there are stricter government regulations that would reduce pollution.  That is why it is important that states have the freedom to regulate or prohibit certain conduct pertaining to animal welfare that the federal government disregards.       

Retail Pet Sales Ban (A Hope To End Puppy Mills)

Rebecca Powers

The Animal Welfare Act (AWA) gives the Secretary of Agriculture the authority to promulgate regulations for the sale, housing, and treatment of pets. “A puppy mill is a breeding operation that breeds dogs for profit, prioritizing financial gain over the health or well-being of the dogs.” The AWA does not limit the number of dogs that can be at one facility and does not require a minimum number of people to work there taking care of the dogs. Dogs can be stacked in small cages with wire flooring and be caged for 24 hours a day it’s entire life. Additionally, inspections are very limited and, once the initial license is given by the USDA, the facility may not be inspected again for 2-3 years.

I recently went to a large mall in Albany, New York. While there I passed by a pet store selling “purebred” and “designer” puppies. In the small store was a wall of glass and behind it a wall of small cages. They were stacked about four high and eight across, most about 2 feet by 2 feet. The puppies were pacing and barking or lying down shivering. I was surprised because I had heard of recent New York State legislation to ban the sale of puppies at retail stores, moving to use the space for rescue dogs and adoption. These dogs were obviously not from animal shelters.

            In the past few years pictures, videos, and more information has come out about the horrors of puppy mills. There is a system that has developed between puppy mills and pet stores. Basically all puppies in pet stores across the country are from these puppy mills. This is because the puppy mill and the pet store have put money ahead of humane, sanitary, quality care, and most Americans walking into a pet store in a mall have no idea about the conditions the dog was bred in. The pet store can say that they only sell from USDA approved breeders, and the average person may think that means a healthy, often checked environment. However, that is not the case as these facilities are rarely checked and the regulations about them are very minimal. Then it is simply a matter of money, some of the puppies can cost close to $1000. There are no real questions about the experience or ability of the buyer/future owner. Someone could literally walk in, point to a puppy behind a glass wall, swipe a card, and walk out with a new living being to take care of.

            Recently, California and Maryland have passed statewide bans on retail pet store sales. These are first of their kind at such a large scale, as almost 300 cities and counties have already enacted such bans. By limiting where those puppies can be sold it limits the demand on the supply side. These bans seek to end the “pipeline” from puppy mill to retail pet store. Legislation was introduced in New York in March 2019 that would add it to the growing list. The New York amendment would make the “sale of dogs, cats, and rabbits prohibited” at retail pet shops. However, it would allow for these pet shops to “showcase” animals for adoption by partnering with recognized shelters and organizations. It explicitly states that a store cannot use breeders or brokers, which would target puppy mills. It hopes to move retail pet stores away from being a for-profit business.

            A positive goal of these laws is that it should minimize the number of dogs euthanized at animal shelters. People go to pet stores to buy a puppy. There could be various reasons why someone might go to a pet store as opposed to a shelter. But regardless of the reason, if we can change it so that the puppies in the pet stores come from animal shelters, then we can save lives. There are plenty of puppies in shelters and numerous pure breed rescue organizations. If they are given the opportunity to bring the dogs to people, it could help raise money and awareness.             There is growing public awareness of both puppy mills and the New York legislation. It is time we end this inhumane pipeline of dogs. There are millions of adoptable pets out there waiting for a good home. Hopefully the public will get behind the amendment and call for state action on this issue.

How Backyard Breeders are Negating Pet Shop Bans

Elizabeth Burns

Just over a month ago, two pug babies were surrendered to The Pug Queen and Tiny Paws Pug Rescue. Sisters Bella and Sadie were only 3.5 months old, but both had tested positive for canine distemper. The virus begins by attacking the respiratory system before replicating and attacking the rest of the dog’s lymphatic system, gastrointestinal tract, and central nervous system. Canine distemper is usually fatal if contracted, and even if a dog survives the disease, it often has lasting nervous system damage. Sadly, despite all these rescues did to treat and care for these babies, both succumbed to the disease. Distemper, while incredibly deadly, is highly preventable with the distemper vaccination.

Photo courtesy of The Pug Queen (instagram: @thepugqueen)

The Pug Queen and other rescues in Southern California are all too familiar with situations like this. Most of the dogs that these rescues take in come from backyard breeders. Backyard breeders are generally different from puppy mills. Puppy mills are considered large-scale commercial facilities that breed as many puppies as possible to sell to vendors (i.e. pet stores). The dogs are often kept in deplorable conditions with little care. Backyard breeders share some similarities with puppy mills. These breeders are considered to be unethical, and they are often in the business solely for the money. They are usually inexperienced in dog breeding, and they take little consideration of their dogs’ needs, often providing minimal food, water, shelter, and veterinary care. Most backyard breeders also don’t take selective breeding or genetic issues into account. The result is sickly puppies often sold before they are supposed to be separated from the mother. However, backyard breeders are often attractive because they advertise “purebred” dogs.

Despite the purported benefits of owning a mutt, a lot of people are still drawn to purebred dogs. When getting a purebred people know what they are getting, i.e. there are breed standards for each recognized purebred that help inform a potential owner of health issues, temperament, or care requirements. Respectable, reliable breeders also know the history and health of the bloodline of their dogs and can inform potential owners of any issues to watch out for. Breeders also often guarantee the “quality” of their dogs and will even take “returns” of dogs that fail to meet health or other standards. There is also a sense of prestige and status that comes with owning a purebred dog. When buying a puppy from a breeder, the owner is given purebred paperwork that can be filed with the American Kennel Club (AKC).

Many people also choose to buy purebred puppies from pet stores. Before the plight of puppy mills became widely known, people often chose to buy puppies from pet shops. With campaigns against puppy mills, pet stores have tried to rebuild their reputations by showcasing the “breeders” they obtain their puppies from. Putting a face and name to the breeder often helps consumers feel better about buying from a pet store. Puppies still come with paperwork, and it is easy to find the breed you are looking for. There is also a misconception that pet store puppies are well-taken care of as opposed to buying from other sources. However, California, Maryland, and possibly New York have decided to ban the sale of puppies, kittens, and rabbits in pet stores, but pet stores can offer services and allow shelters to showcase adoptable animals. While this sounds like a great way to stop supporting puppy mills and encourage adopting a shelter animal, it also drives people to find other ways to get the specific dogs they desire.

Unfortunately, as with any product on the market, consumers look for the cheapest way to get what they want—maximize benefit at the lowest possible cost. Pet stores and good breeders charge a lot for their dogs, and these prices are not affordable for a lot of people. For example, a purebred French bulldog from a reputable breeder can average about $3,000 depending on the coloration. Why buy a $3,000 puppy when you can get a puppy of the same breed for $800? Backyard breeders are filling in a gap in the marketplace that allows buyers to get dogs at lower prices under the guise of a “family breeder.” People inherently feel better when they buy from a person breeding dogs in their home. The operation is not a puppy mill, and there is an expectation that small-time and hobby breeders take good care of their dogs. But, as The Pug Queen and other rescues know too well, the majority of the dogs they take in come from backyard breeders who neglect their dogs and only breed for profit.

The Major Gap in a New Bill in Congress to Rehome Research Animals

Cassie Jurenci

In May 2019, Representative Brendan Boyle (D-PA) introduced the Animal Freedom from Testing, Experiments, and Research Act of 2019 (the AFTER Act of 2019). If passed, the bill would require all federal departments, agencies, and instrumentalities that have laboratory or exhibiting animals to “facilitate the adoption or nonlaboratory placement of certain warm-blooded animals (e.g., dogs, cats, monkeys, guinea pigs, hamsters, and rabbits) with animal rescue organizations, animal sanctuaries, animal shelters, or individuals” who are no longer needed for research and are suitable for release. According to the US Humane Society, animals used in laboratory experiments who survive experimentation are typically euthanized at the end of the experiment, if not during. In a statement, Representative Boyle explained, “[f]or years, I’ve worked to end outdated government animal testing opposed by most Americans, and have been disturbed at how many animals are killed at the end of research even though there are individuals, rescues, and sanctuaries ready to take them in.” 

Regrettably, the AFTER Act does not extend the opportunity for rehoming following experimentation to the millions of birds, rats, or mice used in research every year.

According to the US Humane Society, rats and mice are the most-used animals in research yet, along with birds, they are not protected under the Animal Welfare Act (AWA). In fact, “[o]nly about 1 percent of animals used in research in the United States are protected by this legislation” according to Marc Bekoff, professor emeritus of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Colorado—Boulder and author of The Emotional Lives of Animals. In Emotional Lives, Bekoff explains how The Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002 redefined “animal” to…exclude birds, rats, and mice, bred for research. In the absence of protections under the AWA and without statistics from the USDA on the use of mice and rats in research, ascertaining the number of individuals used in research is a challenge.

The Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress began the “monumental task” of estimating the number of these animals used in research and, in a report published in 2000, they determined that an estimated “85 percent of vertebrate animals used in research, education, and testing are mice and rats.” Compilers of the report contacted 100 of the 2,000 research organizations in its database, and of those organizations, the report found that between 250,000 and 1,000,000 rats, 400,000-2,000,000 mice, and 130,000-900,000 birds were registered with those facilities. Considering similar estimates by other organizations, excluding rats, mice, and birds from the AFTER Act means that tens of millions of animals are not eligible for rehoming after spending their lives as research subjects.

Excluding rats, mice, and birds from the AFTER Act also eliminates the opportunity for these animals to live the rich lives of which they are capable after their use in research. In Emotional Lives, Bekoff details numerous scientific observations showing the emotional and social natures of rats, mice, and birds. Bekoff explains how, “[r]ats show an increase in dopamine activity simply anticipating the opportunity to play” and have been shown to “chirp with joy.” He references brain chemistry studies that “support the idea that play is pleasurable and fun.” Bekoff goes on to say that “[r]ats who are tickled bond to the researchers and seek out tickles.”

Talking about mice, Bekoff describes a scientific study on empathy in which “adult mice were injected with acetic acid, causing them to writhe in pain…. Researchers discovered that mice who watch their peers in pain are more sensitive to it themselves and that an injected mouse writhed more if its partner was also writhing.” On sadness, Bekoff explains how mice who “are bullied or consistently dominated by other mice… [and] become withdrawn” can be successfully treated with human antidepressants. Finally, Bekoff writes about the ability of birds to display ranges of emotion from happiness to anger, highlighting researcher Irene Pepperberg’s studies of the famous African gray parrot, Alex.

Certainly, as animal researchers themselves must attest based on the results of their experiments, rats, mice, and birds are capable of emotional experiences. These animals deserve the same opportunities for adoption after research granted to other commonly used research animals.

According to Pew, a growing number of states have begun passing laws requiring research facilities to provide for the adoption of healthy cats and dogs following experimentation where possible. Federally, the National Institutes of Health, Food and Drug Administration, and Department of Veterans Affairs have policies relating to the adoption of certain laboratory animals no longer needed for research.

The AFTER Act is admirable in its endeavor to provide lab animals the opportunity to live the rest of their lives in caring homes and non-research facilities. However, it is deficient in scope by excluding the vast majority of animals used in research in the United States: rats, mice, and birds. The AFTER Act has remained in the House Agriculture Committee since its referral to that body upon its introduction. The bill should be amended to expand the opportunity for adoption to rats, mice, and birds.

Trump Administration Re-Authorizes Cruel Use of M-44 Cyanide Bombs

Tala DiBenedetto

Recently, the Trump Administration reauthorized the use of M-44 poison devices for use in wildlife culls.  These devices, also referred to as “cyanide bombs,” are planted in the wild and designed to lure in predators that threaten livestock with bait, then release a fatal dose of sodium cyanide, a highly toxic pesticide.  The devices are smeared with scented bait, which cause animals to bite on and pull them. This causes a capsule containing the sodium cyanide is then ejected into their mouth.  Deaths caused by the poisoning from these traps are agonizing. Use of M-44 devices gained some media attention when a fourteen-year-old boy named Canyon accidentally set off a device while walking his dog, injuring himself and killing his dog. After bending down to touch what looked like a garden sprinkler, the device exploded, shooting poison directly into the boys eyes, with the remainder blowing downwind towards his dog, Casey. Within a minute, Casey was “writhing with convulsions, a reddish foam emanating from his mouth. In front of Canyon, the yellow Lab made guttural sounds then went still.” Casey’s death is not an uncommon occurrence. An investigation uncovered that between 2000 and 2012, activation of these devices resulted in the deaths of 1,200 dogs. These cruel devices cast the same agonizing fate on countless wildlife across the country.

This program is carried out by Wildlife Services, a branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). Wildlife Services, founded in 1885, exists primarily for the benefit of the livestock industry, spending more than $80 million a year killing animals that are deemed a “nuisance” to humans. The agency uses of poisoned bait, neck snares, leghold traps (which are banned in 80 countries), aerial gunning, and cyanide traps to go after animals that threaten livestock grazing on public lands. Wildlife Services was responsible for the deaths of over 2.5 million animals in 2018.

Wildlife Services, along with its state counterpart agencies in Montana, New Mexico, South Dakota, Texas and Wyoming, have relied on the M-44s to kill animals that threaten livestock since the mid-1970s. These cyanide bombs kill thousands of animals every year, killing 6,579 in 2018 alone. These traps have been criticized not only for being cruel, but indiscriminate, fatally poisoning numerous non-target species, including federally endangered and threatened species.

M44 Dead Wolf or Coyote near POISON sign 2016-05813_Partial 11_Item 1(New Mexico) 12-scr.jpg
Corpse of a poisoned coyote

In 2019, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued a proposed interim decision reauthorizing the use of M-44 devices. The decision was met with thousands of public comments, almost entirely in opposition to reauthorization. As a result of the flood of public opposition, EPA withdrew its reauthorization application for further review.  Nevertheless, four months later the agency issued its decision to move forward with reauthorization with a few minor additional restrictions. Those restrictions include a 600-foot buffer around residences (unless there is written permission from the landowner), increasing the buffer from public pathways and roads, and one additional sign within 15 feet of a device. In addition to offering no protection to wildlife, the restrictions have been criticized as insufficient to adequately protect the public, pets, and vulnerable species.

Horse Racing: An Elitist Sport or Animal Abuse?

Erika-Marie Kissh

The life of a racehorse is one that even before its conception is planned out and greatly influenced by human beings. Their birth, life, and death, are unnatural and can be seen as out-and-out abuse in every stage of the horses’ life. The main reason why racehorses are forced to live such unnatural lives at the hands of humans is because horse-racing is an extremely lucrative “sport”. The International Federation of Horseracing Authorities estimates that prize money for races worldwide is approximately $3.5 billion dollars a year, and the global industry of horse-race betting makes approximately $116 billion dollars of revenue in a given year.

For thoroughbred racehorses, in particular, their conception and birth is planned out as meticulously as possible to ensure maximum race training time. Mares are forced to Continue reading