Consider these recent, gruesome headlines:
In rural Alabama, police serving drug charges on Jerome Hughes found 65 emaciated dogs being used in “hog-dog” fighting rings—a blood “sport” in which starving dogs are given a terrified, trapped hog to chase and tear apart for the entertainment of onlookers who place bets.
In Western Nebraska, the New York Times uncovered grisly experiments being conducted on farm animals by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Meat Animal Research Center, most involving trying to make livestock animals produce unnaturally large litters or grow more rapidly so that factory farms can send them off to slaughter sooner.
In Tuttle, Oklahoma and Natural Bridge, Virginia, investigations by the Humane Society of the United States uncovered severe cruelty toward baby tigers bred for photo shoots with paying customers, including video evidence of a rare white tiger baby being kicked, dragged and pummeled to get it to “pose” with customers.
Despite the popularity of cute animal videos on social media, animal welfare and protection groups continue to struggle to get the public’s attention when it comes to reducing the suffering of animals and increasing awareness of their plight.
We asked Wayne Pacelle, CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, which oversees hundreds of anti-cruelty campaigns and activities with its partner organizations, to list the key items on the HSUS’ 2015 agenda. Pacelle notes, “All of the items I enumerated, and many other reforms we have in mind, are priorities. It’s impossible to rank them; they all hold great importance.”
1. Inhumane conditions for farm animals.
The HSUS seeks to eradicate practices such as placing animals in gestation crates and battery cages, pointing to undercover videos leaked on the Internet showing farm animals stuffed into crates, packed into cages, thrown alive into garbage compactors and wood chippers, and drowned. For 2015, the organization hopes to transform the concept of rights for food animals from an oxymoron, to a cause that resonates with the mainstream public.
Prop 2, which passed in 2008, just took effect last month in California. It compels farmers to give animals adequate space to lie down, turn around, and stand up and fully extend their limbs—a modest gain, yet a giant leap for the animal welfare movement.
While polls consistently show that most Americans oppose extreme confinement of farm animals and support laws to protect animals against the practice, Congress has passed the buck on the subject. Recently, they’ve refused to enact federal animal welfare standards for the egg industry after following the lead of agricultural industry lobbyists, which oppose all animal welfare regulations.
Despite this setback on the national stage, humane organizations will be kicking up their efforts to pass anti-confinement laws across the country. They plan on working with food retailers to seek bans on using meat from factory-farmed animals continuously confined in small cages or crates. They’re also lobbying to reduce financing for extreme confinement practices used by farms in emerging economies, while supporting and collaborating with small farms committed to the highest standards of humane animal care.
2. Animal euthanasia.
Wayne Pacelle says his organization wants to drive down the rate of animal euthanasia in the U.S. and elsewhere by promoting humane street-dog management programs. Some 6 to 8 million dogs and cats wind up in shelters each year, and 2.7 million of those are euthanized, according to the National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy. (There is no central data reporting system for U.S animal shelters and rescues, and no data on the number of other companion animals, such as rabbits, potbellied pigs, birds and guinea pigs, who live and die in shelters each year.)
Since only 30% of the dogs and cats in U.S. households are adopted from shelters, bringing the adoption numbers up, and the numbers of puppy mills down, is key to rescuing more healthy shelter animals from early death.
Animal welfare groups like the Humane Society of the U.S. work tirelessly to curb the abuses of puppy mills in the U.S. and abroad, says Pacelle, pushing higher standards, restricting imports and lobbying pet stores and the public to consider adopting animals from shelters and responsible breeders, instead of buying from puppy mills and “pet center” retail outlets.
Groups are also working in poor urban and rural areas around the globe to get stray animals health services, including spaying and neutering. This includes programs where animals are captured, neutered, vaccinated and then released.
3. Abuse of horses.
Protecting domestic horses from abuse from slaughter and ending the institutionalized abuse of horses is a main focus of the HSUS…