The National Provisioner : Animal welfare is about much more than animals

pigs, pork, animal welfareThere was a time in our culture when many consumers were more connected to food and agriculture. Citizens knew a farmer or grew up near a farm, milk was delivered directly to people’s doorsteps, and consumers regularly visited their neighborhood butcher.

Yet business consolidation, innovation and technology dramatically changed this way of life, seemingly right before our eyes.

Similarly, animal welfare in food production is no longer just about farmers and ranchers and the way they treat their animals. It is now part of a comprehensive food system that includes consumers, retailers and restaurants, government and regulatory agencies, NGOs, auditors and certifiers, and educators. Our food system is predicated on a model of safety and affordability while aspiring to a balance that is moral and defensible.

With this evolution, the issue of animal welfare has become increasingly complex, resulting in the emergence of ethical and science-based standards.

In the late 1990s, a small movement began to address how animals were raised in food production. Thanks to advances in agricultural and environmental science, farmers were able to maximize the efficiency of their land, equipment and animals, leading to a plentiful supply of affordable food for a growing population.

In 1930, one farmer could feed 10 people, yet today’s farmer provides food to more than 150 people, a 15-fold increase. As the industry flourished, government agencies became burdened with oversight and regulation for safe products and adherence to basic production standards.

This then led to a gap — more like a chasm — between the way animals were being raised for food and how they were being treated in the process.

With rapid expansion and consumer demand, the food system became production-centric with little incentive to maintain higher animal-welfare standards. Aided by technology, machinery and business management, the detachment between farmer and animal grew larger, often at the expense of basic ethical principles.

In 2000, American Humane Association stepped in to create American Humane Certified, the first third-party animal-welfare audit program in the United States.

Recognizing most consumers seek safe and affordable food choices, including animal protein, American Humane Association made a decision to work in collaboration with farmers and ranchers to bring science-based, humane standards to ensure the welfare of animals in the production of food. A few progressive farmers voluntarily became early adopters of the certification process, as did an initial set of concerned consumers who were willing to pay a little more to ensure that the animals raised for food production were treated with compassionate principles and standards for humane handling.

Over the last few years, the negative attention and public perception of modern agriculture systems, including so-called “factory farms,” has grown. This social crusade has been propelled by hundreds of undercover videos documenting severe violations and often horrific incidences from both name-brand producers and smaller, lesser-known producers. A shift from niche activist blog posts to mainstream media coverage was an early indicator that consumer demand, in relation to the food supply, was going beyond the traditional constructs of economics. Now it is impossible to ignore.

With current legislative efforts to prohibit animal alteration practices and certain types of basic shelter, among other humane standards, the movement for transparency and desire for food labeling is intensifying. Not surprisingly, consumers are heavily invested in this trend. According to the Center for Culinary Development (as reported in a March 2012 story in QSR magazine), individuals in the Millennial generation focus heavily on what they eat, and how and where it was raised.

As consumers reconnect with food and agriculture, farmers markets have sprouted across the country, and “farm-to-table” is becoming a household term.

Animal welfare, however, must remain attainable for all Americans — not only those who can afford premium or niche products. Standards rooted in scientific assertion and evidence are critical for industry-wide acceptance and credibility, so consumers can be assured any animals raised for food were treated humanely.

These basic standards include adequate space in which an animal can stand up, turn around or extend its limbs or wings; enrichments by which an animal can express its natural behavior, such as nesting and perching, rooting, pecking and scratching, or lying down; access to others of their species; and elimination of painful procedures.

Humane standards covered by the American Humane Certified program are ethical and defensible, yet they are realistic and accommodate the majority of food shoppers who cannot afford to pay higher prices for their food. American Humane Association educates and trains farmers and ranchers about the science behind its standards and the processes necessary for ethical animal handling. As of today, the program has certified the humane treatment of nearly 1 billion farm animals, representing about 10 percent of the entire U.S. farm animal production. Though not a large percentage, it is significant to a growing body of consumers and industry advocates championing a change for higher standards.

Animal welfare is a process of continuous improvement, and farmers and ranchers are a critical part of the solution. Championing positive action — away from production-centric practices and toward animal-centric standards — and doing so within a framework of realistic and attainable goals, will produce long-term changes and a more transparent food supply with lasting cultural, environmental and economic advantages.

The time to join this movement is now. Today’s ranchers and farmers must be able to assure the public of their humane standards for animals. “Trust me” isn’t enough. Credible, third-party audits and rigorous, science-based standards make up the new model.

Although many Americans may never again have the personal relationship with their neighborhood farmer, rancher or butcher enjoyed by previous generations, we can assure rational protections for as many animals raised for food as possible and reconnect consumers with food and agriculture in a way that brings benefits to all involved.

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Vets Back in School!

This is an exciting time for me and the No Animals Were Harmed™ program. In an effort to keep up with the demands of the film industry and continue to give our animal actors the best protection possibly, we’ve added to our family of Certified Animal Safety Representatives: We’ve hired seven veterinarians! This will bolster an already stellar team, giving a dose of medical science and credentials. These licensed vets will be positioned in key states around the country where movie-making is highest.

Dr. Genna Mize and Melissa Wren studying hard!

Dr. Genna Mize and Melissa Wren studying hard!

We started their training just a few days ago. In the classroom and in the field, they’ll get a heavy dose of the many moving parts that make of that make up AHA’s Film ad TV unit (I love the pics below because it reminds me of being back in school). They’re hard at work learning our guidelines and protocols, being taught by three of our most seasoned Safety Reps – Netta, Susan and Beth (thank you, guys!).

The Group visits the ranch of renowned animal trainer Mark Forbes for some personal instruction.

The Group visits the ranch of renowned animal trainer Mark Forbes for some personal instruction.

In about a month they will be up and running, giving personal oversight to our animal stars on commercial, TV and film sets. I’m happy and proud to have some of my colleagues join us in this good work as we advance the cause of protecting these wonderful working animals. The public expects it, and the animals certainly deserve it!

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Red Star deploys to save starving horses in Tennessee

One neglected animal is one too many. When there are 19, it can feel overwhelming.

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Shortly after dawn yesterday morning, at the request of the District Attorney General for Tennessee’s 25th Judicial District, our nine Red Star team members along with Fayette County Animal Control, sheriff’s deputies, a local veterinarian and volunteers deployed to a private facility in Whiteville, Tennessee to rescue and transport 19 allegedly abused animals – 18 horses and one mule – to a temporary shelter.

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“the animals were so hungry, they had stripped the bark off the trees”

Due to starvation and extreme neglect, 15 of the 18 rescued horses are currently in critical condition. Sadly, at least five other horses are known to be dead. Our team discovered that the animals were so hungry, they had stripped the bark off the trees on the property, hoping to get what nutrients they could.

Two of the horses are on IV fluids, and the rest are being calmed and fed while Red Star team members work to get them strong enough for eventual placement with a long-term facility. Volunteers will feed, groom and care for these wonderful animals with the help of medical treatment by Dr. Jennifer Dunlap, a local veterinarian who has worked with Red Star before. Dr. Dunlap has even graciously agreed to adopt one of these horses.

Josh Cary, a Red Star staff member has deployed with the team countless times, and said these are some of the worst conditions he’s ever seen. He said that many of the horses were just “skin and bones.”

“It’s just heartbreaking to see how scared and malnourished these animals are,” said Dr. Dunlap.  “From foals to adults, their condition is critical.”

This is the second time in as many years Red Star has deployed to Fayette County. In 2012, we responded to take care of 141 hungry, thirsty and frightened dogs rescued from the back of a U-Haul trailer.

Sadly, we know that this will not be the last time our Red Star team deploys to help in a suspected cruelty case like this.

Please make a donation today so that our team members have the resources to work day and night to rehabilitate these animals so they are strong enough to eventually move on to long-term care – and so that we can continue to be there for all animals in need.

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The Key to Saving Animals from Disasters

American Humane Association’s Red Star™ Emergency Services program has been responding to natural and man-made disasters for nearly a century.  Since the time of Red Star’s inception in 1916 to help animals used by the U.S. Army during WWI, we have had a long record of accomplishments and actions on a national—and even international—scale.

Moore, OK Deployment

Moore, OK Deployment

In fact, after an EF-5 tornado with winds in excess of 210 mph ravaged parts of Moore, Oklahoma last spring our Red Star Emergency Services team was there to help. With boots on the ground just days after the devastating tornado, our team worked feverishly with local, state and national organizations to help restore hope through an outpouring of compassion. From walking dogs and cleaning kennels to helping rescue animals from unbelievable scenes of despair, our teams provided the type of services that the Moore community so desperately needed following the horrible disaster.

Our work isn’t just about response and recovery, however. It’s also about preparedness. Quite simply, the key to helping keep pets safe during or after a disaster – large or small – is adequate preparedness.

But with the traditional severe weather season approaching quickly, you don’t have to be a “Doomsday Prepper” to help keep your pets safe. And sometimes, even basic measures could mean the difference between life and death for your pet.

Some of our basic disaster preparedness tips include:

  • NEVER leave animals behind. Know a safe place where your pets can go if you need to evacuate. Evacuation destinations may include a friend or family member’s home, going to a pet-friendly hotel, or temporarily housing your pet(s) at a boarding facility. Plan multiple routes to your safe destination.
  • Always keep your pets’ vaccinations up-to-date.
  • Be sure that all ID tags are properly affixed to your pet’s collar and that they have your current contact information, including cell number(s).
  • Update your microchip registrations and pet license information to ensure its current and consider including the name and contact information of an out-of-area contact just in case you are unreachable in a disaster zone.
  • Prepare a pet emergency kit complete with leashes, collars, extra ID tags, water, food, medications, sanitation materials (i.e. litter and litter box), health/immunization records, and photos to prove ownership. Keep a minimum of 3 days supplies; ideally have 7-10 days supplies.
  • Have portable carriers large enough for your pets to stand-up and turn around in ready to go at a moment’s notice. Practice loading cats and dogs in pet carriers before you have to.
  • Prepare a pet first-aid kit, including your veterinarian’s contact information and an authorization to treat your pets.
  • Don’t leave pets in vehicles. Don’t leave pets tethered or crated without you.

Now is the time to prepare, because when disaster is imminent – it may already be too late.

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Call to Action: Kids Charged with Animal Abuse

Recently, two juveniles were arrested after a video depicting a boy abusing a dog went viral on social media. This recent story only further justifies our belief that humane education is a must for our society.

In the graphic stills from video, a boy is shown body slamming a dog in a yard several times and he is also seen beating the dog all the while another juvenile is heard in the background laughing. Unfortunately, this type of situation occurs far too commonly.

WARNING: Some of these images may be disturbing for viewers

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The Link® between violence towards people and animals is unambiguous. In fact, a study of women seeking shelter at a safe house showed that 71 percent of those having pets affirmed that their partner had threatened, hurt or killed their companion animals, and 32 percent of mothers reported that their children had hurt or killed their pets (Ascione, 1998). Another study showed that violent offenders incarcerated in a maximum-security prison were significantly more likely than nonviolent offenders to have committed childhood acts of cruelty toward pets (Merz-Perez, Heide, & Silverman, 2001).

President Franklin D. Roosevelt once said, “We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future.” And if we want to build more sustainable, humane communities throughout our nation – it’s time for us as a nation to invest in our future by taking steps to break this vicious cycle of violence.

Several years ago I visited a school and I spoke to some kindergarten-aged children about animal safety and kindness to animals. But when I arrived and I started by asking them about their pets, I heard some horrifying things about the way they were being raised to care for animals. I distinctly recall one boy telling me that when his parents went on a vacation, they left their dog tied to a tree, but when they returned – their dog was dead. This goes without mentioning the countless cases of animal abuse I’ve investigated over the years that occurred at the hands of children.

So where does it end? What do we do?

We at American Humane Association (AHA) believe that one of the best ways to protect children and animals — and, on a broader scale, create a more humane world — is through humane education that teaches kindness toward other people, animals and the environment. To that end, since 1915, AHA has promoted Be Kind to Animals Week® — a national initiative to promote compassion and the values of humane treatment of animals to generations of young Americans.

We have a plethora of humane education resources at AHA, but we need your help to get the message out there! We have to take a stand, and we have to teach compassion and empathy not only through education – but also through our actions both in- and outside the home. Let’s build our youth for the future.

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An Animal Shelter on the Brink

Our legendary Red Star™ Emergency Services team has been on the ground in Milford, New Jersey assisting the New Jersey SPCA with a response to help some 200 neglected animals at a shelter that lost its way. Our team has been doing everything from cleaning and disinfecting all areas of the facility to walking dogs and helping to start the shelter animals on the road to their new lives – as a member of a loving family.

DSC_0306To see the changes that have been made since we first arrived is truly and utterly amazing. People who I have spoken to are touched by the great progress and I’ve seen numerous people brought to tears as they become overwhelmed by emotion because they have worried for so long about the animals at this shelter.

Many of the animals who have been at this shelter have been here for years. One cat, Egypt, who had been here over a decade when we arrived, has clearly spent most of her life inside the walls of this facility. I’m happy to report however that thanks to other wonderful shelters and rescue groups who have also responded to the call for help, Egypt is now on her own special road to recovery.

One person who has been volunteering at this shelter for four years told me that she wished “corporations could turn around this fast” as we spoke about the progress. But our long days and hard work don’t stop at just procedural changes, building improvements and recommendations.

DSC_0316___2Any time you go on a response, you develop a connection with the animals you’re helping – it’s why we do what we do – because we want to help animals in need. One such connection our team made was with a beautiful pit bull named Nautilus. Referred to as a “big teddy bear,” he simply loves to snuggle under his blanket at night, comforted by the intervention that he and his buddies so desperately needed.

I cannot say enough about our responders and our partners like Red Rover. We all have been working extremely hard to help make a positive impact here. Our responders, coming to New Jersey from all over the country – and from all walks of life – have literally been scrubbing kennels on their hands and knees, cleaning walls, floors, doors, drains and all the while showing love, compassion and empathy to these beautiful animals – the voiceless victims in this situation.

Our team has committed so much over the last couple of weeks to this community, all simply to help make the improvements that have been needed here for so long. But ultimately, if it weren’t for the great people who support our vital work, we wouldn’t have been able to show these animals or this shelter the way in their time of greatest need.


American Humane Association is the country’s first national humane organization and the only one dedicated to protecting both children and animals. Visit American Humane Association at and remember to follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

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