Royal Canin agrees to help Vier Pfoten rescue bears used in baiting

From ANIMAL PEOPLE,  September 2013: (Actually published on October 8,  2013)

VIENNA––The Austrian-based international animal welfare charity Vier Pfoten (Four Paws in the U.S.) is expanding its constellation of bear sanctuaries to accommodate 15 to 20 bears who have been used in bear-baiting competitions in Ukraine.  

Caught sponsoring the competitions,  the French-headquartered dog food maker Royal Canin is expected to invest $250,000 in the bear rescue project.

Vier Pfoten in July 2013 released video showing packs of dogs being set repeatedly on a chained brown bear.  Though injured,  the bear survived.  Vier Pfoten pledged to find and rescue that bear and many others who have been similarly used.

Out-takes from the Vier Pfoten video show the Royal Canin name on two trophies,  one for contests between a bear and one dog,  the other for a bear and multiple dogs.

[pullquote]The question is, how come a supposedly civilized nation like the Ukraine allows such demonstrably sordid spectacles and activities as bear baiting competitions? And why is the UNO and the rest of the EU silent on such issues? [/pullquote]

Said Vier Pfoten bear project leader Amir Khalil,  “The branded trophies made clear reference to bear baiting,  carrying the inscription ‘second championship between hunting dogs for bears and wild boar.’  During our research,”  Khalil added,  “material was passed to us which proves that Royal Canin sponsored a similar contest in February 2012.”

Wrote Royal Canin global corporate affairs director Herve Marc in a preliminary statement,  “It appears that these photos were taken during a dog show in Dubovy Gay in the Ukraine,  on April 27-28,  2013.

Our colleagues in the Ukraine confirmed that we sponsored brand placements with one banner,  two trophies,  and  free product samples and nothing else.  There was no mention of the demonstration using the bear. ”  Nonetheless,  said Marc,  “As a result of our investigation,  we have decided to immediately pull out of future sponsorship of this event and undertake some additional actions,  such as reminding our sales and marketing teams around the globe of the relevant policies in place. For example,”  Marc said,  “Our animal welfare Policy states that we do not undertake,  support or sponsor research that harms animals.”

Khalil was unimpressed.  “Royal Canin will not utter a word on what should now be done for the ill-treated bears,”  he said on July 25, 2013.  “They merely say that the Ukrainian office ‘has taken measures to halt any type of sponsorship or events which run contrary to the animal welfare ethics of the company,’  and that worldwide ‘all Royal Canin offices have again been made aware.’   Royal Canin Switzerland told journalists this week that they knew nothing of events like this.  In May 2013 we contacted all European offices of Royal Canin in countries where Vier Pfoten has an office––which includes Switzerland––and also the headquarters in France. We confronted them with extracts of the visual material and requested a personal meeting.  A personal meeting has been refused right up to today.”

“Royal Canin unreservedly apologizes for sponsoring the event where the bear baiting took place,”  Marc responded.  We again thank Vier Pfoten International for bringing this practice to our attention and in doing so reminding us that diligence in ensuring our policy is followed is paramount.  Specifically,  Royal Canin will work to improve the welfare of the Ukrainian bears and dogs involved in bear-baiting. We intend to provide funding for this project,”  Marc pledged.  “We will also take the lead in building an alliance to include additional volunteering parties to ensure the project is secured for the long term.”

Said Khalil,  “We welcome Royal Canin’s willingness to take on responsibility.  But of course words alone are not enough––now we need to see action.  it is already clear that we need the support of the Ukrainian authorities if we are to end the bears’ suffering,”  Khalil added. “A project like this is very demanding logistically,  financially and bureaucratically.”

Vier Pfoten already operates bear sanctuaries in Bulgaria,  Germany,  Austria,  and Kosovo,  as well as the Lionsrock sanctuary in South Africa for lions and other African wildlife.

Partnering with Ukrainian media,  Vier Pfoten in August 2013 went on to expose illegal commerce in bear cubs. Royal Canin is a subsidiary of the Mars pet product empire,  which also makes Whiskas cat food and Pedigree dog food,  among several other name brands.  Royal Canin co-sponsored the 2013 American Humane Association Hero Dog Awards program,  has donated dog food to hundreds of shelters,  and recently funded an agility course for dogs at the Abu Dhabi Animal Shelter in the United Arab Emirates.

Success in the campaign against bear-baiting came as a timely morale-booster for Khalil.  In 2012 Khalil led a Vier Pfoten team in sterilizing and vaccinating more than 4,000 street dogs in Kiev,  Lviv,  Donetsk,  and Zaporozhye,  Ukraine,  to prevent massacres by local authorities ahead of the Euro 2012 football championships.  But Vier Pfoten withdrew from Kiev in mid-2013,  Khalil told media,  after authorities took no action in response to death threats which may have been sent either by hunters who shoot dogs for sport,  who have emerged throughout the former Soviet Union,  or by persons associated with the city animal control agency.

Vier Pfoten had reason to take the threats seriously.  Among much other violence against people who challenge the catch-and-kill Kiev animal control modus operandi,  a veterinarian employed by the Kiev charity SOS Animals Ukraine suffered brain damage in 1999 and two companions were killed in a suspect car crash.

Fielding mobile dog and cat sterilization clinics in Bulgaria,  Romania,  Slovakia,  and Croatia since the fall of Communism,  Vier Pfoten remains the largest nonprofit sterilization service provider in all four nations.

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