Our Top 10 Reasons to Be Thankful this Year

On this special holiday devoted to giving thanks, we would like to share our Top 10 Reasons to be thankful in 2014:

  1. Farmers and ranchers who put the “thanks” in Thanksgiving by going the extra mile to raise their animals humanely.

Some 10 billion animals are raised on our nation’s farms and ranches, yet the vast majority – almost 90 percent – are not provided animal-centric welfare standards beyond the industry standards offered by trade association guidelines and retailer-imposed audits. Our hats are off to those farmers and ranchers who go the extra mile and raise their animals according to science-based, verifiable standards that ensure they have adequate space, lighting, food and water, humane treatment and the ability to express natural behaviors. More than 100 producers on 8,000 farms have joined our American Humane Certified™ program – the country’s first and largest farm animal welfare effort now protecting 1 billion animals. Thank you! And now it is even easier than ever for Americans to make humane choices at the grocery store and to set a humane table this holiday season and all year long. Join us and do your part by purchasing humanely raised products.

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The Reunion of Specialist Brent Grommet with his Warrior Dog Matty

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It was a dream come true for hero dog and hero soldier.  Thanks to Don Grommet’s personal mission to right a wrong for his son, a hero in the War on Terror, MWD Matty is now at home in Missouri with his battle buddy.   I am so thrilled that Specialist Brent Grommet and his dog Matty have been reunited after more than a year apart.  I am also humbled that American Humane Association was able to play a part in making this reunion happen.  American Humane has helped numerous warrior dog handlers reunite with their battle buddies, but this reunion is extra special because of all the work and effort that went into it. After working with so many veterans to help them be reunited with the dogs with whom they developed such a close bond, you come to understand just how important and meaningful those relationships are to these men and women. It’s about compassion, caring and healing. Continue reading

On Tour With Animal Stars: Part 1

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Last month I published my first book Animal Stars: Behind the Scenes with Your Favorite Animal Actors, co-written with my friends Allen and Linda Anderson, and featuring a foreword from America’s Veterinarian, Dr. Marty Becker.

I approached the book with a fan’s mentality: I was raised on Disney movies and iconic television shows like “Lassie,” “Mr. Ed,” and “Flipper.” Those animal stars are some of the most iconic in Hollywood history, and I was so honored to learn that American Humane Association’s “No Animals Were Harmed®” Program was there on set then to make sure those stars were safe when bringing their larger than life roles to the silver and small screen. This book is a love letter to not only those amazing animal actors, but their hardworking, dedicated trainers as well. My goal with the book was to show readers how much hard work and long hours it takes to make these roles a reality, and the amount of effort our own Certified Animal Safety Representatives™ go through to truly ensure the safety of those furry, winged, and scaled actors.

Now that the hardcover edition (featuring Richard Gere and Chico the Akita, the titular canine star of Hachi) is in bookstores everywhere, I’ve been on the road at Barnes & Nobles around the country to meet people like me: lifelong fans of animal actors. We’ve had some great stops along the way, and have many touching experiences we’ll cherish for a lifetime.

So far, the tour has hit Houston; Dallas; Washington, D.C.; Boston; and Winston-Salem, in my home state of North Carolina, and it’s been the thrill of a lifetime to meet so many wonderful Americans and share tales of animal actors featured in the book. Tales like Casey, the diva bear who would only work for KFC Original Recipe Fried Chicken – not Extra Crispy– as his treat. The bear had a discriminating palate and nothing but the Colonel’s Original Recipe would do. Or tales like how Crystal the capuchin – referred to as the Angelina Jolie of animal stars – has formed true bonds with her human co-stars, and brought comfort and joy to Robin Williams on his birthday, just a few short weeks before his life was tragically cut short. He called Crystal his favorite leading lady, which is certainly high praise from someone with so many credits to his name.

At every stop we’ve been joined by Hudson, the delightful Golden Retriever you know as Willie Nelson from the 2011 comedy Our Idiot Brother, where he shared the screen with Paul Rudd. Hudson has also been on “Saturday Night Live” several times, including most famously as Mitt Romney’s dog during a skit airing close to the 2012 election. Christina Potter, Hudson’s trainer and mom, has been such a joy to work with. She loves showing off Hudson’s range of tricks to the delight of children and really anyone who meets him.

Not only has Hudson been with us, but we’ve had the chance to be joined by some special Hero Dog winners as well. In Boston on October 22 we had the pleasure of welcoming Stella, the standard poodle winner of the Therapy Dog category at the 2012 Hero Dog Awards. As always, she was dressed in an outfit her mom Marissa had put together, and in Boston it was a lovely green sweater Marissa had knitted herself.

StellaVetWhile there we made friends with a young veteran named Nathan who is going through a rough time since returning home from deployment. He was in the store to buy a chemistry book, but his life may have changed forever after meeting Stella. He ended up spending an hour with us, and not only bought a copy of Animal Stars, but truly bonded with Stella (see picture at right of them). Nathan sent a very touching email to Stella, where he said that bonding with her made him want to look into getting a service dog, so he could learn to live and love again. Nathan’s email is why we are doing this tour. And we wish him the very best.

The Sunday stop at Winston-Salem had several 2014 Hero Dog winners in the house: JJ the Service Dog category winner and Donna Lawrence, whose lovable pit bull mix Susie is the new American Hero Dog. Of course, since JJ is a service dog, she was there with KK, the lovely little girl coping with a very serious condition. JJ is her number one line of defense for sensing when severe reactions are about to occur, and alerts KK’s parents and teachers to administer medicine immediately. I can’t think of a more special, meaningful example of the human-animal bond. Hudson seemed to have huge crush on JJ, rushing over to sniff her at every chance he got.

I’m writing this now as I’m about to board a flight to Las Vegas, site of a tour stop on Tuesday October 28. This will be the first of three stops this week, with Kansas City and Nashville still to come in the next few days. This week we will welcome another animal star to our tour, Bonny the Shih Tzu who you know as the star of the movie Seven Psychopaths. Like many of the animal actors featured in the book, Bonny is a rescue, and was given a second chance at life. From once languishing in a shelter to then co-starring in a movie with Christopher Walken, Colin Farrell, and Woody Harrelson, not a bad gig.

I want to thank everyone who has come to our events so far and for everyone planning on coming to the final few stops. But most of all, I want to thank Christina and her husband Taylor, who have driven from their home in New Jersey to every stop so far. They’ve put a lot of miles on their tires and taken off a lot of time, going from Texas to DC to Boston to North Carolina just to be with us. All four of their dogs are along for the ride, including Chester the Berger Picard, and their two Chinese Cresteds, Pepe and Morgan. The Potters are quite the sight when they come into a bookstore or hotel with all four dogs in tow.

We’ll see the Potters once again when they come back down to North Carolina for our stop in Charlotte on November 15.

I hope to see more fans of animal stars in the next few days. Be sure to visit the book’s website for all the dates, times, and locations. Until then, as I say on my radio show, let’s all remember to Be Humane!

Retired military dogs deserve a new leash on life

Mankind has always had a special relationship with dogs.

For thousands of years, dogs have comforted us, protected us, and given us their unconditional love. Time and time again through the ages they have proven why they are considered our best friends.  And nowhere is that remarkable bond between dogs and people been more critical than on the battlefield. Continue reading

Animal welfare: There are three humane choices for egg-laying hens

The egg has always generated conversation, beginning with its debatable role preceding the chicken. Recent news and legislation advance the chicken-egg relationship further by defining space requirements and additional welfare considerations for egg-laying hens and other farm animals.

Unfortunately, some important issues have been lost in the debate.

Many egg producers, retailers and consumers are concerned that mandating only one type of egg production as meeting humane standards could create serious issues. For example, mandating cage-free eggs as the only type of humane eggs could increase the cost of eggs to the point of being unaffordable for many people. Continue reading

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. Continue reading