In America cruelty is “culture.” Kindness may be “crime.”
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, March 1998:
SAN FRANCISCO––Hidden cameras have
caught live animal vendors at Asian-style markets
countless times in atrocities––not just in San Francisco,
where the markets are a heated public issue, but in virtually
every U.S. and Canadian city with a Chinatown.
The alleged offenses only begin with selling
the animals alive to assure buyers that the meat is fresh.
Reported the San Francisco SPCA to the California Fish
and Game Commission on January 23, 1998, “Frogs
are typically piled in large containers or confined in
wire cages without food or water. We have seen containers
we estimated held over 100 frogs, piled several
layers deep. Injured, bloodied, and dead frogs, some
with their sides split open, were plainly visible. We
have also witnessed turtles having their shells sliced
from their bodies while fully alive and being hacked and
pounded repeatedly with dull knives before being
decapitated. At one market, our investigator found a
turtle still moving with its carapace cut open and its
internal organs displayed in full view of shoppers.”
Many animals, including birds and mammals,
are boiled to death, in the belief that adrenaline released
by pain and fear enhances the flavor and medicinal
value of the flesh, especially for men.
Fish, mollusks, and crustaceans are sometimes
still alive when served to be eaten.
Yet exclusive of alleged traffickers in wildlife
parts poached chiefly for export, Jim Nakamura, 75,
of Chico, may be the only Asian-American in
California currently facing governmental prosecution
for his treatment of animals. Nakamura was charged on
December 18, 1997 with feeding homeless cats.
A retired Chico State University food service
professional, Nakamura “promised God he would take
care of the cats in return for his health,” according to
Laura Urseny of the Chico Enterprise-Record. “He had
been hit by a heart attack, prostate cancer, knee
surgery and back problems. Then his wife died.”
Nakamura began cooking for the cats, who
are symbols of good luck to many Japanese, in late
1997. Soon afterward, the Bidwell Park and Playground
Commission obtained a bylaw against cat-feeding––after
earlier rejecting volunteer help and $8,000 in
funding to get the cats neutered, offered by L. Robert
Plumb of the Promoting Animal Welfare Society.
Nakamura, represented by noted animal
rights lawyer Larry Weiss, was to go to a jury trial in
late February 1998. If he loses, he may be jailed.
Some of the alleged San Francisco offenders
are to go to trial on April 6––in a private prosecution of
12 vendors by the Coalition for Healthy and Humane
Business Practices, formed by attorney Baron L. Miller.
Miller won standing to bring the action in July
1997. “The court upheld our right as private citizens to
enforce the law,” Miller said. “The court also rejected
the argument that our case is racially motivated, though
I doubt we have heard the last of that distortion. It’s a
matter of cruelty, not culture. This suit is a result of
frustration with the district attorney not enforcing the
law and the San Francisco Board of Supervisors not
doing anything with enforcement recommendations from the
city Animal Control and Welfare Commission,” which in
November 1996 voted 7-3 to ban the sale of live mammals,
birds, reptiles, and amphibians, but not live fish.
Live animal vendors have always responded to law
enforcement crackdowns by claiming to be victims of racial or
ethnic bias. The cry of racism has also been raised recently by
live animal vendors of Greek, Jewish, eastern European, and
Hispanic descent in New York, Chicago, Boston, and
Vancouver, British Columbia. Each time, political figures
have intervened to make law enforcement back off.
Yet much of the most damning evidence in each case
has come from persons of the same or closely related race and
ethnicity, usually of much stricter religious observance.
“The San Francisco defendants are claiming that
these live animal markets are part of Chinese culture. It should
be pointed out,” Miller recently told Althea Yip of Asian Week,
“that Buddhism is also a part of the Chinese culture, and
Buddhism instructs us to practice kindness to all living things.
The defendants are violating aspects of their own culture.”
Feed the birds
The hands-off approach of authorities toward livefood
sales, purportedly in respect of minority cultural values,
is distinctly two-faced––as not only Nakamura but growing
numbers of bird-feeders could testify.
St. Francis, for whom San Francisco was named, is
often depicted in the act of feeding and blessing birds. But St.
Francis was a latecomer to the practice. Sacramento Bee
reporter Bob Sylva on January 31 described Bhanumati Parmar,
57, as “St. Francis wrapped in a sari” for fulfilling her Jain
faith by feeding seagulls 20-30 loaves of day-old bread per
week, in emulation of the Jain teacher Mahavira, who fed
birds circa 2,500 years ago.
Yet in Dover, New Hampshire, bird-feeder Herbert
Ramsey, 74, was surrounded just before Christmas by four
police cars including a K-9 unit, handcuffed, and arrested.
Haunted by World War II combat on Okinawa,
Ramsey quit hunting and began feeding birds instead in 1949.
“I found the Kingdom of God,” he explains. But
since Dover adopted an anti-bird-feeding ordinance in 1994,
Ramsey has been convicted 19 times of violating it. He is now
under a permanent injunction against ever again feeding birds
on public property. If caught, he may serve six months in jail.
Ramsey is just one of many Americans prosecuted
recently for bird-feeding, irrespective of their religious beliefs.
Born-again Christian Jacqueline Hagopian, 59, of
Pasadena, California, has fed pigeons daily since 1972 to keep
a vow she made after witnessing the death of a pigeon who
tried to snatch a crumb from in front of an oncoming car.
Facing prosecution for the second time in five years for allegedly
violating a 1964 ordinance against feeding pigeons in a public
place, Hagopian in November 1997 agreed to restrictions on
her feeding sites––but almost immediately, deputy Pasadena
prosecutor Alison Weissman told media the city would return
to court to tighten the restrictions further.
Joan Guidi, 55, of Atlantic City, calls emulating St.
Francis by feeding pigeons outside her home, “My heritage.”
Yet in December 1997, Guidi was issued a permanent restraining
order against further feeding, under a 1953 statute against
“interfering with the general well-being” of her community.
Not every bird-feeder is a good citizen. Yet serious
bird-feeders themselves tend to recognize that bird-feeding can
harm public health if droppings are allowed to collect, or pollute
a water source; if diseased birds are attracted into an area;
if spilled grain brings mice and rats; or if the presence of birds
draws mammalian predators who may also menace humans.
Bird-feeders also commonly recognize that feeding
may harm birds, if it keeps them farther north than they ought
to be come winter; concentrates them at feeding sites built in a
way that favors predators; or brings diseased birds into proximity
with others. Feeders, for instance, are believed to have
facilitated the nationwide spread of mycoplasmosis, a bacterial
disease causing epidemic blindness among housefinches.
But no major ornithological society opposes birdfeeding.
The high number of participants relative to reported
problems indicates the problems are rare. U.S. Fish and
Wildlife Service data indicates more than 52 million Americans
fed birds at least once a week over an eight-month period in
1996. Of all wildlife-related activities, only watching animals,
with 77 million participants, was more popular. Just 35 million
Americans fished; only 14 million hunted.
The case against bird-feeding, in short, rests not on
health issues so much as on simple annoyance to people who
just don’t like birds––or who believe humans should never
interfere with nature.
The case against cat-feeding is similar. There are
some overt cat-haters, who often dislike all animals, and some
humane workers who think killing homeless cats more effectively
prevents suffering, but the most vocal foes of cat-feeding
tend to be birdwatchers and bird-feeders, who believe the carnage
they see at vulnerable feeding sites indicates cats are a key
factor in the decline of songbirds.
Even most cat-feeders readily agree that cat predation
should be minimized. Many neuter the cat colonies they feed,
and find homes for any cats they can tame.
The Mammal Society, of London, England, meanwhile
recorded and in February 1998 published the kill totals of
800 pet cats over six months. The two most prolific hunters
were Missy, with 125 kills in 180 days, including 28 birds,
and Kipper, with 82 kills, including six birds. Their combined
kill totals were about at the subsistance level for one cat.
Health and ecology
The case against the sale of live animals as food on
public health grounds is considerably stronger than the case
against either bird or cat-feeding.
Testified Lexie Iku Endo, DVM, of San Ramon, in
a July 1996 letter to the San Francisco Animal Care and
Control Commission, “Over the past 14 months I have taken in
more than 200 water turtles, primarily red-eared sliders that
others have rescued from meat markets in Chinatown. Thirty
percent arrive dead or died within 10 days. Another 15%
remain chronically ill––riddled with parasites. Most are dehydrated
and starved. Many have bacterial shell and skin infections.
If these were dogs or cats, the owners of the stores that
sold them would be prosecuted for cruelty.”
Endo’s words appear to have been affirmed in
September 1997, when the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention published findings from analysis of 96 iguanas, 417
other lizards, 228 snakes, and 80 turtles––821 live animals in
all––found for sale as “pets” in San Francisco stores. Harmful
bacteria, including 46 different strains of salmonellosis,
afflicted 59%. But because the animals were marketed as pets,
the vendors were exempt from food safety standards.
The ecological harm resulting from selling live animals
as food––whether that purpose is acknowledged or not––is
also more evident than the effects of bird-feeding or cat-feeding.
The impact of removing huge numbers of reptiles and
amphibians from their habitat affects the whole wetlands food
chain. The import of others heightens the impact of the custom
of purchasing animals from the live food markets for release,
a practice found parallel to such sales for at least 1,400 years.
Offended Jains, Buddhists, and Hindus began purchase-forrelease
as a form of protest against live food sales. The practice
spread to Franciscan Catholics and some Islamic sects––and
became a source of extra profits for vendors.
An estimated million birds per year are captured and
sold expressly for release in India, where the Bombay SPCA,
People For Animals, and Blue Cross of India are directly challenging
the capture-for-release industry in current court cases.
In the U.S., animals bought for release tend to be
non-native reptiles and amphibians.
“Of the three species most observed in San
Francisco’s live animal markets––red-eared sliders, softshell
turtles, and bullfrogs––none are native to California, and all
are being released into California waters,” the SF/SPCA told
the California Fish and Game Commission. “Imported from
wild habitats thousands of miles away or from polluted overseas
aquaculture facilities, these animals threaten fragile native
species through disease, predation, and competition for food
and habitat. There is even evidence that California’s cattle and
other farm animals may be at risk.”
On May 20, 1997, San Francisco Animal Care and
Control officers and California state game wardens caught 14
people in the act of trying to release 60 squabs, 40 Chinese
quail, 53 turtles, and 140 pounds of frogs at Lake Merced.
Few if any could have lasted much longer than the
2,500 goldfish that a Manhattan-based Buddhist congregation
released during a freezing rain in January 1997 at Weston Mill
Pond, a reservoir for the city of New Brunswick, New Jersey.
Many were reportedly dead before the service was over.
But about 20 New York City-area Buddhist temple
congregations who also release animals purchased at live-food
markets are believed to be responsible for growing populations
of feral goldfish, finches, parakeets, and non-native turtles in
Central Park, surviving release at warmer times of year.
No New Year for animals
The most extreme cruelty comes in preparing animals
for eating, as documented in affidavits filed on February 6 with
the California State Labor Commission by former San
Francisco restaurant workers Adalberto Monte Canche, Julian
G. Yah May, and Julio A. Cer Vazquez. The three seek
allegedly unpaid back wages.
Yah May was hired to wash dishes by the Grand
Palace Restaurant in 1996, owned by one Elaine Chieu. Chieu
hired Canche and Vazquez, who speak only Spanish, as dishwasher
and janitor on October 6 and October 9, 1997.
On October 21, 1997, Canche and Vazquez
affirmed, they witnessed the Grand Palace chef immerse a coatimundi
in boiling water. The chef then poured boiling water
over the animal’s head. The coatimundi screamed for 20-30
minutes before dying, as the chef continued the slow scalding.
The next day, Canche was fired, as apparent dupe in
an alleged scheme by which another restauranteur took the
refrigerated remains of the coatimundi, which Chieu valued at
$1,000, according to translation of her statements by Yah May.
Canche asked Yah May to call the police. Yah May testified
that Chieu offered him “a good amount of money to keep
quiet,” which he did not accept. Kept on through a busy weekend,
Vazquez and Yah May were fired on October 26.
Responded Board of Supervisors president Barbara
Kaufman, to San Francisco Examiner reporter Scott Winokur,
“An isolated incident I’m not even sure is valid doesn’t mean
you condemn the entire Chinatown way of doing business.”
Campaigning for two years against the live animal
markets, Eric Mills of Action for Animals is used to such evasion.
“As Speaker of the California State Assembly, San
Francisco mayor Willie Brown was pro-animal,” he recalls.
“But because Chinatown activist Rose Pak claims to have
delivered the Chinatown vote to elect him mayor,” after Brown
left the Assembly, “he has not supported improvement of
either humane or sanitary conditions in the live markets.”
The California Fish and Game Commission on
February 6 postponed a vote on whether to ban the import and
sale of live turtles and frogs for human consumption, to protect
endangered native turtles and frogs. Because Chinatown merchants
complained that the voting date conflicted with the start
of the Chinese New Year celebration, inconveniencing their
efforts to lobby, the vote was deferred to April Fool’s Day.
[For a list of ways to help fight the sale of live ani –
mals as food, contact either Eric Mills at Action for Animals,
POB 20184, Oakland, CA 94620, 510-652-5603, or
Virginia Handley, California representative for the Fund for
Animals, Fort Mason Center, San Francisco, CA 94123,