Companion Animal Abuse
Approximately 63 percent of homes in the United States have a pet as part of their family and the pet supply industry grows year after year. Americans love their pets but abuse to our companion animal friends is shockingly pervasive, affecting dogs, cats, horses and many other species throughout the country. Some animals are abused for the sake of entertainment as in sled dog tourist attractions, greyhound racing and dog fighting. Other abuse is hidden from view by animal hoarders who have more pets than they can handle and horse traders who transport horses across our borders for slaughter. The commonality in all of these abuses is that the animals begin life with the potential to become beloved family members but instead are used by humans for personal or professional profit.
Dog fighting is an illegal activity in which dogs are pitted against each other for the entertainment of spectators. Two dogs, usually American Pit Bull Terriers or Staffordshire Bull Terriers, are unleashed upon one another resulting in critical, often fatal, wounds while spectators root for the dog they have gambled on.
Dog fighting is illegal in all 50 of the United States but it is estimated that there are at least 40,000 professional dog fighters and 100,000 amateur fighters in the U.S. The prosecution and conviction of the NFL’s Michael Vick for dog fighting shed light upon this underground crime that takes place anywhere from city alleys and basements to rural barns and garages, run by impromptu street fighters or highly organized rings. Dog fighting is a serious problem across the U.S. and throughout the world.
These highly loyal animals are trained to be dog aggressive and they suffer in every aspect of their lives. The dogs typically live outdoors, tied to short chains and isolated, without adequate shelter or companionship. During training, dogs are tied to treadmills with heavy weights, forcing them to run. Less aggressive dogs are used as “bait dogs”. Sometimes bound to prevent them from defending themselves, they are mauled and sacrificed during training fights for the fighting dogs. Bait dogs are acquired through theft, deceitful shelter adoption, classified ads or fake rescue groups that accept surrendered dogs.
Dog fighters breed fighting dogs. Professional fighters breed selectively so the bloodline of a champion dog can live on. Females are strapped to “rape stands” for breeding and their teeth are often hammered out so they do not harm the male dog mounting them. Dogs are often starved so they can “make weight” and become more aggressive.
During fights, dogs suffer from ripped flesh, broken bones and punctured lungs. Death from blood loss, shock, dehydration, infection and exhaustion is common and can even happen days after a fight ends. If the losing dog does not die in the fight, his owner is likely to kill him by shooting, beating, hanging, drowning or electrocution. The dog fighter’s motto is to “breed the best and bury the rest.”
Other illegal activity usually occurs alongside dog fights. Many thousands of dollars can be gambled at a fight, so weapons, guns and drugs often find their way to the ring and dog fighters have been linked to other kinds of violence. Children are often among the spectators, learning aggression, animal cruelty and irresponsible social standards.
The widespread nature and under-enforcement of dog fighting leaves many victims suffering: the dogs who are forced to fight, the children who are desensitized to violence and the communities that are affected by this crime.
Mushing, in which a sled is pulled across snow by harnessed dogs, is used as a mode of transport, in races such as the Iditarod and as a tourist attraction. “Husky” is a general term for the several kinds of breeds, including Alaskan Malamutes and Siberian Huskies, used as sled dogs.
The sledding in itself is dangerous for the dogs who sustain injuries such as pulled muscles, torn tendons, stress fractures and hypothermia and often die during or after grueling races. When they are not working, sled dogs live on a chain typically no longer than three times their body length. They are typically kept outside in the sub-zero temperatures of the northern U.S. and Canada and their living conditions are rarely inspected by any regulatory agency. Many of these dogs don’t have any kind of shelter protecting them from the freezing climate and indigenous wildlife. Puppies have been found frozen to death and dogs have been disemboweled and eaten by polar bears. Any water provided to them usually freezes so they don’t have access to it at all.
Though animal cruelty laws vary from state to state, adequate food, water, shelter and veterinary care are usually standard. However, Alaskan statutes stipulate an exemption for animal entertainment practices: “This section does not apply to generally accepted dog mushing or pulling contests or practices or rodeos or stock contests. A.S. 11.61.140(e)” The official Iditarod rules for 2009 state, “All dog deaths are regrettable, but there are some that may be considered unpreventable.”
Sled dogs are not considered pets; they are workers who provide services to humans who profit from the dogs’ pain and misery.
Animal hoarding is classified as a mental disorder, rather than deliberate animal cruelty. It is characterized by a drive to collect and control a multitude of animals, sometimes hundreds, whom the individual cannot properly care for but is deeply attached to. Hoarding is the second most common form of animal abuse in the United States and the number of hoarding cases nationwide has doubled during each of the last 4 years. It is estimated that a quarter million cats and dogs live in hoarding situations.
A significant aspect of this issue is the inability of the hoarder to perceive that animals are suffering from poor care though they may be surrounded by paralyzed and starving dogs and cats with infected eyes and respiratory disease. Zoonotic diseases can also affect the health of the hoarder. Dangerous levels of ammonia caused by the urine build up in every permeable surface often threaten the lungs of each breathing creature in the home. The living conditions in general are always extremely unsanitary. Feces is often allowed to build up anywhere and everywhere and furniture and the house itself become dilapidated beyond repair. Utilities such as the stove, refrigerator and toilet are frequently inoperative. Animal hoarders often hoard possessions as well so their homes are overflowing with old magazines, empty soda and beer cans and other items most people would consider trash. The clutter, disrepair and overwhelming number of animals make it impossible to maintain the home. When a hoarder’s animals are seized, the house is sometimes condemned and demolished or abandoned because of its state of squalor.
Malnourishment due to lack of adequate food and water is the most common cause of suffering and death of animals in hoarding situations. The resulting weakened immune systems and extreme overcrowding make the animals susceptible to disease. Animals may also become aggressive and fight one another over food. The weakest may be killed and consumed by the other animals. They are often not socialized to humans because of a lack of personalized attention. Uncontrolled breeding can also take place because of the inability to control the intermixed animals, resulting not only in more animals but young who suffer the effects of inbreeding and who may die because of the filthy conditions.
Psychological support is essential to the treatment and recovery of a hoarder, though it is too often not available in many rural communities where hoarding takes place. If the animals are removed and the hoarder is left untreated, the recidivism rate is almost 100 percent and the hoarders will continue to neglect their animals, their homes, themselves and their dependents.
Dog racing is an amateur activity and professional gambling business in which greyhounds chase a lure around a track to reach a finish line.
The industry has declined in the last decade, with attendance dwindling and the amounts wagered falling by more than 40 percent. It is banned in 38 of the United States, five states have no functioning tracks, but tracks are still in operation in the remaining seven states, generating millions of dollars in revenue.
Greyhounds are sometimes forced to compete in extreme weather conditions and every year thousands sustain injuries such as broken legs, heatstroke, seizures, paralysis, dehydration, lacerations, puncture wounds and cardiac arrest. Dogs often die from their race injuries or during transports that have no climate control. When not racing, dogs are confined to small, stacked wire cages for 80 percent or more of the day.
The standard industry feed is extremely low-quality meat, which can violate some states’ animal cruelty laws, but keeps the costs down in a dying industry. A lack of appropriate veterinary care is also typical. Sometimes dogs are given performance-enhancing drugs. Between 2001 and 2003, hundreds of dogs at Florida racetracks tested positive for cocaine.
Nearly 20 percent of the hundreds of thousands of greyhounds bred and born every year are killed as puppies in a practice known as “culling the litter”. Breeders target puppies with less potential as racers resulting in an estimated 85,000 greyhound deaths yearly. Unwanted puppies may also be sold to laboratories for animal testing. Thousands more dogs are killed yearly when they are unable to run as quickly due to age or injury. Some are returned to breeding facilities to propagate an overabundance of puppies so as many winning dogs as possible are produced.
While inanimate lures are common, approximately 100,000 rabbits and other small animals die annually from their use as live lures in training races. Trainers often break the lure animals’ limbs so that their cries will “excite” the greyhounds for the chase and so they will chase the inanimate lures during the actual races. Lure animals also die in “coursing”, a practice in which the racing hounds chase and kill a fenced-in animal.
Though the industry is dying and greyhound protection groups are fighting for bans and rescuing retired dogs, every year thousands of dogs between the ages of 18 months and 6 years are killed when they are no longer profitable after living lives of forced confinement and relentless racing.
Horse-drawn carriage rides are a tourist attraction found in many cities across the United States. A few cities across the U.S. and international cities, such as London, Paris, Beijing and Toronto have banned the carriage horse industry. However, it still operates in cities like New Orleans, Chicago, San Francisco, Philadelphia and, perhaps most famously, New York City.
Horses pull carriages in extreme heat and cold working amongst cars, trucks and busses, inhaling the fumes seven days a week. The carriages also create congestion and dangerous traffic conditions. Collisions are not uncommon. The stimuli surrounding the horses can be overwhelming and loud, unexpected noises can cause them to spook and attempt to flee. Property is destroyed and dozens of people and horses are injured or killed every year in carriage accidents. Horses develop hoof and leg problems from walking almost exclusively on asphalt and are often not given water as frequently as they need it.
Most of the stables the horses live in are too small for them to comfortably turn around and lie down. They are not allowed to perform natural horse behaviors such as running, grazing in pastures or socializing with other horses.
In New York City, there are approximately 200 carriage horses and nearly 20 commercial stables. Turnover is high and horses work for an average of just four years. When the horses are no longer profitable because of injury or age, they are often auctioned off and slaughtered for use in animal food or sold or shipped out of the country and slaughtered for human consumption.
Regulations put a Band-Aid on a problem that ultimately cannot be solved. There is no humane way to operate the carriage horse industry. The physical and mental needs of these large but delicate animals cannot be met in a city setting. Pedi-cabs (rickshaws powered by humans on bicycles) provide a humane alternative to supporting the carriage horse industry. Tours in hybrid-electric replicas of classic cars have also been suggested for the use of tourists in New York City.
Horse Slaughter Trade
Horse slaughter for human consumption ended in the United States in 2007 with the closing the last remaining slaughterhouses. No federal ban is in place though the sale and consumption of horse meat is illegal in several states. Many former race and carriage horses as well as wild and pet horses who go to auction are destined for transport to slaughter in Canada and Mexico, totaling tens of thousands a year. Stolen horses may also end up at slaughterhouses.
“Killer buyers”, slaughterhouse employees, or horse traders buy the cheapest horses at auctions and either take the horses to lots with the intent to fatten them up or put the horses directly onto trailers headed for the slaughterhouse.
Many horses sustain severe, if not fatal, injuries during transports in which they may be overcrowded, unsecured and receive little to no food or water. The majority of horses who make it to the slaughterhouses are healthy animals who could live out long lives as family companions.
In Mexican slaughterhouses horses are repeatedly stabbed in the spine until they are paralyzed. Still conscious, they are hung by a hind leg, their throats are cut and their bodies dismembered. The “meat” is shipped internationally to countries such as Belgium, France, Italy and Japan for human food.
Horses who do not go directly to slaughter are sometimes kept in severely inadequate conditions. The traders who have acquired them often do not have the necessary funds or adequate acreage to support the horses. They animals frequently have no access to clean food or water, much less grooming. They are left to fend for themselves in fields that quickly become barren. Horses are disposed of by being shot, buried alive or simply left to starve to death or die from injury or illness.