Humane Societies, Guts, & Moral Leadership

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, June 1999:
Because Japan annually kills almost twice as many Dall’s porpoises as scientists believe the population can withstand,
Switzerland on May 27 asked the International Whaling Commission meeting just concluded in Grenada to protect small whales as well as large.

“It’s none of their business,” fumed Japanese delegate Mayasuki Komatsu, storming out. “We are going to continue to kill Dall’s porpoises just like you kill cows.”

Conservationists countered that Japan does not breed and raise Dall’s porpoises–but that missed the point. Even if Dall’s porpoises could be factory-farmed with the heartless efficiency applied to pigs and chickens, neither porpoises nor any other species should be raised en masse in misery and wantonly killed.

Four thousand miles away, Lynda Imburgia of Langley, Washington, hit the same note in a letter to the South Whidbey
Record, published on May 29. “I am a meat eater,” she wrote, “and would be a hypocrite to condemn the Makah whalers. What happens to the meat most of us eat is far more inhumane, on a much vaster scale.”

Rather than quit eating meat, even knowing the production process to be inhumane, Imburgia defended other cruelty. The 1985 Canadian government paper Defence of the Fur Trade anticipated the Imburgia response, as did the 1989 American Medical Association Animal Research Action Plan. So long as “the general public [is] not prepared to give up meat,” the AMA authors explained, vivisectors can defend almost anything they do by comparing it to meat animal husbandry and slaughter.

Other animal use industries got the message. Just in the two days it took to draft this editorial, we saw whalers, sealers, furriers, trappers, hunters, bullfighters, and rodeo cowboys–among others–reflexively reaching for the meat argument as their ultimate rejoinder.

Tacitly acknowledging that standard agricultural animal husbandry, slaughter, and hunting practices are inherently
inhumane, meat producers and hunters have even achieved legislation exempting themselves from humane laws in at least 29 states. Yet the meat habit is not invulnerable. The ethical arguments against meat convinced whole Asian nations to go vegetarian as long as 3,000 years ago. Their educated descendants are still overwhelmingly vegetarian, chiefly for ethical reasons. So many younger Americans are giving up meat now, from a combination of ethical and health concerns, that per capita spending on meat of all kinds, including chicken and fish, is a third lower among people under 35 than among those 55 and older.

The ecological arguments against meat were never stronger. A Union of Concerned Scientists study published on Earth Day 1999 confirmed that meat-eating, after driving motor vehicles, is the most environmentally damaging of all U.S. consumer activities. Producing grain-fed beef, the Union of Concerned Scientists found, is 17 to 20 times more damaging than making the same grain into pasta. Meat and poultry production contributes half again as much to
global warming as crop cultivation–and 70% of U.S. grain crops are raised as fodder.

The Economic and Social Research Institute of Ireland published similar data just a week later, finding that raising animals for meat produces about 29% of the Irish “global warming potential,” and 49% of total “acid rain precursors.”

The front line and the bottom line

Meat-eating is thus both the front line and the bottom line in the struggles against cruelty and habitat degradation. But where are humane societies? Picking just a few quick examples from incoming newsletters, we understand the horse-oriented Hooved Animal Humane Society, of Woodstock, Illinois, apparently still derives funds from an annual benefit pig roast–as if pigs are not also hooved animals. Individual activists first protested against the pig roast more than
10 years ago.

Orphan Pet Oasis, of Palm Desert, California, serves staff a Thanksgiving turkey. Day’s End Farm Horse Rescue, of Lisbon, Maryland, in March 1999 held a “Casino Shrimp Fest,” even as shrimpers urged the 106th Congress to ease requirements that they must kill shrimp in a matter that won’t kill endangered sea turtles as well. But Day’s End also
offered vegetarian lasagna.

The Animal Humane Society of Hennepin County, Minnesota, served meat hot dogs at its annual Walk for Animals. Asked to explain by Minnesota Farm Animal Rights Movement activist Julie Derby, Animal Humane Society assistant to the executive director Michael Petersdorf offered the whole litany of conventional excuses.

“In the 25 years of hosting the Walk for Animals,” Petersdorf began, “there have been an extremely small number of
people who have expressed concern over the choice of food served at this event. Most were complaints regarding their simply not liking hot dogs, rather than a lack of a vegetarian entree or lack of empathy for the plight of farm animals.” In effect, Petersdorf argued that because the public doesn’t care about farm animals, the Animal Humane Society need not, either.

“We consider our supporters to be well-educated professional people who are well aware of how farm animals are treated and slaughtered,” Petersdorf continued–a dubious claim when neither local news media nor the Animal Humane Society, by far the largest humane society in Minnesota, have either aired or discussed on the record the undercover video that activists Steve Wong and Dug Hanbicki made in early 1998 at the Concord Meat Processing Company and Long Chen Hmong Livestock Inc., both of South St. Paul.

ANIMAL PEOPLE specifically asked Animal Humane Society executive director Alan Stensrud to view and comment on the Wong/Hanbicki video, for the record, after we ourselves viewed the uncut tape. If he ever viewed it–and it showed cruelty that appears easily prosecutable despite the Minnesota exemptions for “standard” farm and slaughter practices–we received no comment.

Ten years earlier, we understand, actvist Becky Sandstedt had a similar experience with the Animal Humane Society after videotaping the mistreatment of downed animals at the South St. Paul stockyards, even though in the 19th century it was among the first humane societies to address abuse of cattle.

“Most of our supporters are not vegetarians,” Petersdorf went on. “The Animal Humane Society cannot jeopardize the success of its largest fundraising event by offering food that is not well-liked by the majority of the participants,” as if there were not a multitude of popular non-meat alternatives available, from apple pie to corn-on-the-cob.

“In addition,” Petersdorf said, “we cannot force our supporters to become vegetarians at an event that is intended to
raise money and create awareness of our organization,” as if even heavy meat-eaters don’t on average forgo meat at about 20% of all their meals.

“The Walk for Animals is the Society’s largest fundraiser, accounting for approximately 16% of our annual operating budget,” Petersdorf added. “Its main purpose is to raise funds, not create social awareness or instigate social reform.” Yet the original constitution of the Animal Humane Society, drafted in 1891, when it was still called the Minnesota Humane Society, stipulated that “the inculcation of humane principles” should at all times be the first objective of the organization.

“While the Society does have an obligation to promote the humane treatment of all animals,” Petersdorf acknowledged, “it has chosen to concentrate its efforts toward the domestic animals it commonly encounters. Due to budgetary restraints and the amount of work still to be done in reducing the number of animals surrendered
to shelters, the Society must remain focused on these domestic animal issues.”

But focusing day-to-day activity on dogs and cats in no way precludes adopting policies and promoting attitudes that benefit all animals. The public and media look toward humane societies to set the standards of treatment for all species; a so-called “Animal Humane Society” that neglects that duty is not worthy of the name.

“As you are well aware,” Petersdorf went on, “the hot dogs we receive for the Walk are both donated and easy to prepare,” raising the question as to whether the Animal Humane Society would also accept the opportunity to raise funds by auctioning donated hunting weapons, or a round trip to Mexico to watch bullfights and cockfights.

“If the Minnesota Farm Animal Rights Movement could provide a vendor willing to donate 200-300 vegetarian entrees that can be easily prepared the morning of the event,” Petersdorf concluded, “the Animal Humane Society would be happy to offer it as an alternative and it addition to the hot dogs we now serve.”

Derby and friends donated several hundred vegan hot dogs–but ran into resistance from the Animal Humane Society, they said, when they tried to announce their availability.

Under the circumstances, we were disgusted but not surprised to receive a report from Joanne Murphy of the Minnesota Animal Rights Coaliton that Animal Humane Society cruelty investigator Keith Stref, in testimony at a recent hearing of the Minnesota legislature, allegedly described how he spends his vacations at his sister’s farm killing runt piglets with a hammer. We asked Stensrud to confirm, deny, or clarify. He did not respond.

LaRussa sets an example

Unfortunately, these are not isolated cases. Recounts Grateful Acres Sanctuary founder Shannon Lentz, of her experience earlier this year as a participant in an online discussion group for humane professionals, “Someone suggested that a local grocery might donate hot dogs to a shelter promotion. I respectfully reminded the list that the humane ethic we try to promote should include all creatures, not just dogs and cats, and that the public looks to
humane workers to set a standard of compassion. Did I ever get e-mail! These folks were hot! You’d never have guessed they were in animal welfare.” Lentz’ message was seconded only by “a woman from Tony LaRussa’s Animal Foundation.”
St. Louis Cardinals’ manager Tony LaRussa and his wife Elaine are perhaps the most admired of many vegetarians in professional sports. Even before they lent their names to a highly regarded no-kill humane society, they were never reluctant to explain why they gave up meat, for humane reasons, nearly 30 years ago.

Other humane societies with the guts to put principle first are beginning to demonstrate that the public will respond positively to the vegetarian message. The Progressive Animal Welfare Society, for instance, of Lynnwood, Washington, is not only a leading dog-and-cat rescue agency and outspoken foe of Makah whaling, but also blew aside the whaling-is-no-worse-than-meat argument by devoting the entire Spring 1999 edition of PAWS News to the cover message “Go Veggie!”

This is not the first time PAWS has promoted vegetarianism. And the PAWS position on meat does not seem to hurt their fundraising. According to the most recent available IRS Form 990 data, PAWS annually raises and spends almost exactly the same amount as the Animal Humane Society–against stronger local competition for the animal protection dollar.

The American SPCA, whose board ousted 14-year president John Kullberg in 1991 for promoting vegetarianism, has recently published numerous articles critical of meat-eating in ASPCA Animalwatch. PIGS: A Sanctuary during mid-May took the issue one step farther. In keeping with longstanding PIGS policy, the reception for high donors at the grand opening of a new rescue farm in rural West Virginia was strictly vegan, as was the concession stand at the
public opening the following day.

“Everyone raved about the food,” reports PIGS cofounder Jim Brewer. “Many of our supporters are not vegetarians, and we had people visiting just out of curiosity who were not even supporters. People kept asking who our caterer was. We sold tons of vegetarian hot dogs and burgers, and passed out vegan soap samples donated by Tom’s of Maine. The key, I think, is that we didn’t do anything to make it seem freakish or abnormal that we didn’t serve meat. We just
served good vegan food, and the people ate it up.”

Editorialized ANIMAL PEOPLE in September 1994, “If it isn’t cruel to hang eight billion chickens a year upside down and slash their throats, why should anyone care about a boy who beheads a canary? If it’s okay to shoot cattle in the head, why not shoot dogs and cats? What people choose to put in their mouths in their own homes may be their business, but at a humane event, it’s our business–and if we don’t separate ourselves from the meat habit, we
really can’t expect the public to see us as the principled people we presume to be.”

Five years later, it is long past time for the humane community to realize that only those with the courage to lead haveĀ  any hope of being followed.

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