This past weekend, the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) held a special event in Montecito to honor celebrities and companies that have made important contributions to the animal protection movement. During the event, which benefited the HSUS’ equine protection work and Pets for Life program, Wendie Malick was presented with the Horse Hero Award, Priscilla Presley with the Humane Campaigner Award, and John Paul Pet with the Humane Corporate Award.
I interviewed Wayne Pacelle, CEO of the HSUS to get more insight into the HSUS’ Pets for Life Program, and to hear more information about horse slaughter, horse soaring and a few other animal welfare issues.
The HSUS recently started a program called Pets for Life (PFL). What prompted the HSUS to start this program?
The HSUS is concerned with and working to address the 6 -8 million dogs and cats entering shelters in the US every year but we saw the need for a targeted approach and a need to burrow into communities that were not getting access to the services that pets desperately needed. There are an estimated 23 million pets living in poverty with their people across the country, and The HSUS is leading the field on how to reach and serve this audience that has long been overlooked.
What expenses does the PFL cover and how does a family qualify to be accepted into the program?
The big-ticket item is spay/neuter and vaccinations. Fewer than 10 percent pets in underserved areas are spayed/neutered so sterilization is the most common service covered by the program. Through the PFL approach, in the areas we work, we are converting 78 percent of the unaltered pets to spay/neuter, bringing the communities up to the national average of 88 percent. We also provide flea/tick medication, leashes/collars, scratching posts, litter boxes, basic preventative veterinary care, crisis medical care, and more. Additionally we facilitate relationships and adoptions with the local shelters and cover items such as pet deposits and serve as an advocate to landlord or public housing officials. Whatever is needed to keep families together, happy and healthy, PFL is there.
How many states/cities is this program operating in? Are these programs being run on a state/city level?
The program operates on a city/town level. We are currently in 30 markets (27 states) and in the process of finalizing five additional markets by the end of September. By the fall we will be in 35 markets (32 states).
In those states/cities, have you seen a significant decline in the number of animals being turned into shelters?
While we have seen a decrease in shelter intake in certain markets where PFL operates, we don’t track PFL success based on shelter intake. One reason is because there are huge variables between shelters in how they track and record their intake numbers and even major variables from year to year with the same shelter and these changes don’t necessarily reflect changes positively or negatively in the community. Changes in leadership, policy, response, budget, and approach can all impact intake numbers without any connection to what is really happening in the community. Another reason is because we have found that almost 90 percent of the pet owners we meet in our areas of focus have never contacted their local shelter and animal control – meaning these underserved communities are usually not registering in shelter intake numbers in a truthful way, if at all. So there either is no baseline to start with or an inaccurate one.
Moving onto a different topic, the HSUS is very vocal about its opposition to horse slaughter. Are horses sent to slaughter for the same reason that dogs and cats are euthanized, i.e., overpopulation, or are the horses solely being killed for food?
Horse slaughter is a derivative of over-breeding, neglect and irresponsibility. As long as slaughter is an outlet for breeders to sell excess horses, they will be rewarded—and continue their irresponsible behavior.
In the U.S., horses are not raised or treated as food-producing animals. Horse slaughter is not only inhumane but may also pose serious health risks to humans. Unlike animals raised for food, the vast majority of horses destined for slaughter will have ingested, or have been treated or injected with, multiple chemicals known to be dangerous to humans, untested on humans or specifically prohibited for use in animals raised for human consumption. Horses are gathered for slaughter from random sources at various stages of life, and there is no system in the U.S. to track medications and veterinary treatments given to horses to ensure their meat is safe for human consumption.
I was under the impression that horsemeat was illegal in the United States. Why would horses be sent to slaughter here?
It is currently illegal to slaughter horses and sell their meat for human consumption in the U.S. However, each year killer buyers ship more than 100,000 American horses—working, racing and companion horses and even children’s ponies—to slaughter, often by cramping them in trailers and denying them food, water or rest. After slaughter, their meat is shipped overseas for human consumption. The majority of these horses are young, healthy animals who could have led productive lives with loving owners if they’d been given the chance.
What are the options for horse owners who no longer want their horse, but don’t wish for their horse to be killed for human consumption?
If a horse owner can no can no longer properly care for their horse, there are a variety of humane options for relinquishing a horse: selling the horse to a properly vetted private owner, leasing the horse to another horse enthusiast, or, as a last alternative, humanely euthanizing the animal with the assistance of a licensed veterinarian. Responsible horse owners should not take their animal to a livestock auction. Slaughter is a brutal and terrifying end for horses, not a humane end to life.
Another horse issue that has been in the news recently is the issue of soring (abusive methods that horse show trainers use to achieve the high-stepping “big lick” gait). What is the HSUS doing to prevent these soring practices?
The HSUS is working tirelessly to end soring by pressuring the industry and urging the federal government to establish new rules to crack down on the practice. The Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, H.R. 3268/S. 1121, would strengthen existing law and end the practice once and for all. We are also working to encourage the USDA to step up its enforcement of the Horse Protection Act. In addition, through our Now, That’s A Walking Horse! grant program, we are supporting individuals, as well as breed and industry organizations that promote the natural gait and humane treatment of Tennessee Walking Horses. Finally, The HSUS offers awards for information that leads to the conviction of known horse abusers.
Is there a movement to try to prevent the ribbons given out at horse shows competitions for the high-stepping “big lick” gait? I would think that trainers would no longer be motivated without the recognition and thus soring could be prevented.
Unfortunately, year after year, trainers and exhibitors entering shows, including the industry’s top event, the Celebration, are a veritable “who’s who” of Horse Protection Act violators. These same people and their horses are awarded top honors and when they are caught soring, the punishment amounts to little more than a slap on the wrist. And the judges selected by show management to evaluate the competitions have a history of violating the Horse Protection Act themselves – perpetuating the cruel practice.
The HSUS, along with other animal welfare advocates, has been successful in campaigning numerous shows and state fairs throughout the U.S. to no longer offer performance or “big lick” walking horse classes and focus only on promoting humanely-trained, flat shod classes.
Another animal welfare issue making news recently was the announcement from McDonalds stating their plans to switch all of its eggs to cage-free. While I applaud this switch, I can’t help but think of a passage from the book Eating Animals, where Jonathan Foer called cage-free and free-range eggs “bullshit”. Foer says: “Imagine a shed containing thirty thousand chickens, with a small door at one end that opens to a five-by-five dirt patch – and the door is closed all but occasionally.” Foer states that the USDA doesn’t even have a definition of free-range for egg-laying hens. He also states that cage-free is regulated, but means no more or less than what it says – the animals are literally not in cages, but still only has eight-tenths of a square foot of space each. What are your thoughts on cage free and free range eggs?
As HSUS noted in its public statements, cage-free doesn’t mean cruelty-free. It is, however, a big improvement over battery cages. Cage-free hens can walk, spread their wings, perch, nest, and engage in other important behaviors denied to caged hens.
The HSUS has a different opinion on cage-free. You can read more about their opinion at: CAGE FREE
Another animal welfare issue close to my heart is the issue of animal overpopulation. For nine years I worked at the Michigan Humane Society in Detroit, Rochester Hills and Westland. On average we would take in 50,000 animals a year and adopt out 12,000 of them. Based on my experience, pet overpopulation was our biggest struggle, resulting in many spay and neuter outreach campaigns. Does the HSUS also see pet overpopulation as the single biggest issue facing pets in the U.S.; or are there larger issues plaguing our pets at the national level?
The United States is a nation of pet lovers, with nearly three-quarters of Americans sharing their homes with pets. Our Companion Animals department envisions a world where people and companion animals live happy, healthy lives, thriving together. Our goal is to empower people and communities to keep companion animals healthy and happy throughout their lives. But we face tremendous challenges: an estimated 23 million pets live in poverty, and fewer than 10 percent of them are sterilized; 30-40 million community cats roam our communities, and fewer than 2% of them are sterilized; and 6-8 million animals enter shelters each year, only about half of which will find new, loving homes.
The HSUS’ goal is to actually solve the underlying reasons why pets end up in crisis, keeping pets in their homes and out of shelters, and empowering communities to fix problems related to companion animals.
To achieve this goal, the Companion Animals Department focuses on four primary areas of work:
• Humanely Managing Community Cats: Reducing Populations through Innovation and Collaboration
• Reaching the Under Served: Expanding the Pets for Life Program & Philosophy
• Keeping Pets in Homes: Eliminating Housing Barriers, Increasing Access to Pet Wellness and Veterinary Care, and Increasing Pet Owner Support
• Finding Pets Homes: Reaching New Audiences of Potential Adopters and Eliminating Adoption Barriers
In addition, we address public and corporate policy issues affecting companion animals and, provide critical resources to the companion animal welfare field.
Thank you so much for taking the time to inform my Pet Chat readers about some of the animal welfare issues the HSUS is working on. I, for one, appreciate everything you guys do!