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The following is from a 2011 online article, “Ten Vaccine Myths”, posted by Catherine O’Driscoll to Dogs Naturally Magazine.

Myth No. 1

Vaccines protect our dogs against disease, helping to ensure they live long, healthy, happy lives.


Vaccines only sometimes protect our dogs against disease (if at all). Scientific studies into human vaccines have shown that just as many vaccinated people, and sometimes more vaccinated people, contract diseases as do unvaccinated people.

A study conducted by Canine Health Concern during 1997, involving 2,700 dogs, showed that 68.2% of dogs in the survey with parvovirus contracted it within three months of being vaccinated. Similarly, 55.6% of dogs with distemper contracted it within three months of vaccination; 63.6% contracted hepatitis within three months of vaccination; 50% contracted parainfluenza within three months of vaccination; and every single dog with leptospirosis contracted it within that three month timeframe.

So vaccines represent – at best – only a 50/50 chance of protection.

Needless to say, this “study” did not involve the controlled exposure of 2,700 dogs (or 4,000, the number used on the author’s website) to diseases ranging from parvo to influenza within the three months following their respective vaccinations. Nor did it demonstrate that any vaccine is at best 50% effective.

Canine Health Concern, founded by the author of the article, evidently conducted a survey, and while the details are not easily accessible (or worth looking too hard for, I think), one may assume some fraction of surveyed pet owners happened to own dogs afflicted (either past or present) by various diseases. Suppose 22 dogs (out of the either 2,700 or 4,000 whose owners were surveyed) suffered parvo infection, and 15 of those happened to contract it within three months of being vaccinated. Voila, you have your 68.2%.

Never mind if 100 or 1,000 other vaccinated dogs were in fact vaccinated, exposed, and protected. No matter if the survey respondents either lied or were confused regarding their pets’ vaccination status. No matter if the vaccines in question were expired or faulty. No matter if the relevant sample is in fact so tiny that drawing conclusions is unwarranted.

I normally try to avoid such low-hanging fruit, but O’Driscoll’s aggressive promotion of junk science (and personal abuse of math) is too egregious to ignore.

© Ruth Crisler and Spot Check, 2012.


I have a weakness for dogs with ridiculous overbites, probably because the one’s I’ve known, including the female pit bull pictured below, have had awesome personalities.

Not suggesting the “massive overbite” should be an element of any breed standard, but then again, why not?

Would breeding for only half a lower jaw be any more ludicrous than breeding for twice as much skin as necessary, or legs so short that running was an uphill battle, or a head so large that puppies need be delivered via c-section?

After all, there’s a fine line between deformity and fetish.

No Pekingese. No Bulldog. No Clumber Spaniel. No Mastiff. No Neapolitan Mastiff. No Basset Hound.

These are the breeds that were absent within their respective group competitions at this year’s Crufts, due to their chosen ambassadors (those judged Best of Breed) subsequently flunking a newly mandated vet check.

According to the Kennel Club website:

The Kennel Club has introduced veterinary checks for the Best of Breed winners at all Kennel Club licensed General and Group Championship Dog Shows from Crufts 2012 onwards, in 15 designated high profile breeds. This measure was introduced to ensure that Best of Breed awards are not given to any dogs that show visible signs of problems due to conditions that affect their health or welfare.

The fifteen high profile breeds are as follows: Basset Hound, Bloodhound, Bulldog, Chow Chow, Clumber Spaniel, Dogue De Bordeaux, German Shepherd Dog, Mastiff, Neapolitan Mastiff, Pekingese, Shar Pei, St Bernard, French Bulldog, Pug and Chinese Crested.

Thus no Best of Breed award was ultimately awarded to the winners of six individual breed contests. See all results here.

One can read more about these events on a number of sites, including Terrierman’s Daily Dose, Pedigree Dogs Exposed, Border Wars, and Honest Dog.

Personally, I applaud the Kennel Club for taking this step, although they may have done so grudgingly, and although it is perhaps not the best step they could have taken. And I applaud the veterinarians in question for their willingness to suggest that the Kennel Club’s “Best”– if that includes dogs suffering from visible health problems– isn’t good enough.

But I’m a little put off by the Kennel Club’s apparent effort to lay blame for the crippling health problems within certain high-profile breeds squarely at the feet of a handful of judges. And I’m equally put off by the suggestion that the solution to these problems, which clearly stem in large part from a century of judging dogs by appearance alone, is somehow to judge dogs more competently by appearance alone.

From the Crufts website:

Ronnie Irving, Kennel Club Chairman, said: “The majority of people involved in showing dogs, including the 15 high profile breeds, are doing a good job in moving their breed forward and many judges are ensuring that health is paramount when they judge. This work should be applauded and recognised.

“Sadly though, a few judges in some breeds simply can’t or won’t accept the need to eliminate from top awards, dogs which are visibly unhealthy. Neither we who show dogs, nor the Kennel Club which must protect our hobby, can reasonably allow that state of affairs to continue. I hope also that monitoring the results of this exercise may even, in time, enable us to drop from the ‘high profile’ list some of those breeds which prove to have a clean bill of health.

“This move, along with the other health measures that we have put in place will help the Kennel Club to ensure that the show ring is, as Professor Patrick Bateson said it can be: a positive lever for change in the world of dogs.”

Professor Steve Dean, Crufts Committee member and Senior Veterinary Surgeon, and a member of the Kennel Club General Committee, said of the new requirements: “The guidance which we will issue to Show Vets will focus on clinical signs associated with pain or discomfort which will come under the main headings of external eye disease, lameness, skin disorders and breathing difficulty. The show veterinary surgeons will be looking for signs such as ectropion, entropion, corneal damage, dermatitis, breathing difficulty on moderate exercise, and lameness. The fifteenth breed is the Chinese Crested where the principal issue will be the presence of skin damage arising from hair removal and thus signs of clipper rash or chemical insults to the skin will be looked for.

According to Kennel Club secretary Caroline Kisco, the vets will be judging the winners’ health solely by outward appearance. In other words, vets are not to disqualify dogs for any reasons beyond those that would have been apparent to the show judges themselves. Watch the below video to hear Kisco explain in her own words.

Here’s my take on that interview. By scapegoating individual judges, the Kennel Club deftly avoids undermining the idea that purebred dogs may be perfected via beauty contests. After all, a competent show judge should be able to gauge a dog’s health and fitness just as easily as these independent veterinarians, right?

It’s not the system that’s broken, it’s not the bizarre dog show culture, and it’s certainly not the Kennel Club ethos. It’s just a few bad apples– a few blind or deluded individuals that somehow can’t tell a sick dog when they see one.

Other than that, everything’s fine.

© Ruth Crisler and Spot Check, 2012.

A few of you might remember a post from around two years ago regarding an obvious hoarding situation masquerading as a cat sanctuary. The post was titled WTF?, which should provide a clue as to my take on the matter.

According to the ASPCA, Caboodle Ranch was the subject of a year-long investigation culminating in last week’s arrest of its owner Craig Grant, and the removal of 700 cats from its premises.

Below is the fluff segment, posted on YouTube, that originally caught my attention.

What a mug! No wonder the bulldog is so popular.

The New York Times published this article on bulldogs last week. Better late than never, as they say.

They really can be charming dogs, I admit. I know a whole bunch and do adore a number of them. It is also an inarguable fact that they make some of the most freakishly cute puppies on the face of the planet. But I nonetheless routinely caution against their acquisition, along with hoards of fellow dog trainers, for a multitude of reasons including heart, joint, and breathing problems, debilitating allergies, and short lifespans.

Examining the progress of the breed over the past century explains a lot. Below is an illustration from the NYT article depicting the evolution of the University of Georgia mascot “Uga”, followed by some photographs I found online.

A) Uga I, 1956-66. B) Uga III, 1972-81. C) Uga V, 1990-99. D) Uga VIII, 2010-11.

Original Yale mascot "Handsome Dan", 1889

bulldog c. 1913

Westminster Best in Show, 1913

Original Georgia mascot "Uga", 1956-1956

Westminster Best in Show, 1955

Handsome Dan XIV, descended from a top show champion, 1995

Uga VIII, dead at 2-yrs-old from lymphoma, 2011

Handsome Dan XVII, present

For a more in depth take on the NYT article, see this recent post at Pedigree Dogs Exposed.

Disclaimer: I know nothing about penguins. But I know a thing or two about equipment.

My husband called me from his car to alert me to a story on NPR he thought I needed to hear. I think his exact words were, “So, I’m listening to the radio, and there’s a penguin expert complaining about a new scientific study, and she sounds exactly like you. And she sounds really pissed.”


He was right, though. Her comments in response to the penguin study, the results of which are published in the current issue of the journal Nature, sounded eerily like my comments in response to a number of “shock collar” studies I’ve read. And, in another striking parallel, her tone did come across as rather annoyed.

The study, conducted by a team from the University of Strasbourg in France, claims to answer conclusively the question of whether the flipper bands used by scientists to track penguins in fact significantly compromise their chance of survival. From the radio transcript:

The French team put traditional metal bands on 50 King penguins that live near Antarctica. Fifty others had much smaller radio-frequency transponders. Ten years later, the survival rate for banded birds was 16 percent below the unbanded birds.

Yvon Le Maho, the chief biologist, says at first there was little effect. Then during the first 4.5 years, survival rates for the banded birds dropped about 30 percent below the unbanded birds.

“In other words, only the superathletes are surviving,” Le Maho says.

The numbers were even worse for breeding, banded birds producing 39% fewer chicks.

Le Maho found that banded birds took longer to forage for food in the ocean and they were slower to get to breeding sites in the spring. That meant adults had less time to raise their chicks before heading off for lengthy foraging trips in the winter.

“At some time, they have to leave while their chick is too young and too poor in [reserves of] body fuels to withstand the winter,” Le Maho says.

According to ukwired, the “[French scientists] say continuing to use the tags would in most situations be unethical.” This despite other studies that show such bands to have minimal effect.

“There was a debate about whether bands have an effect or not – and you could find studies and some would say ‘yes’ and some would say ‘no’,” said Claire Saraux from the University of Strasbourg and the French Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS).

“So our idea was to try to make sure – instead of doing one-year studies, to try to find out what’s going on over 10 years,” she told BBC News.

This study… eclipses everything else”

Case closed, non?

But what about that lady on the radio that sounded like me? Dee Boersma is described as one of the world’s leading penguin experts, and it turns out she has a different opinion. From the NPR transcript:

The French study, she says, “shows that the bands that they used on King penguins harmed the King penguins — I have no doubt about that. But all bands are not created equal. It depends on what material that they are made of, it depends on how they are shaped, it depends on how they are fitted to the individual penguin. It depends on what penguin species it is.”

Mais, non?!

You mean to tell me that all nifty flipper bands are not in fact the same? That the “traditional” bands used in the French study may not fairly represent all such bands? That maybe an aluminum band is mare harmful than a plastic one? That how the bands are applied in the field actually has some relevance? Sacreblue!

But listen for yourself:

(and if that embed doesn’t work, follow the below link)

Flipper Bands Can Harm King Penguin Population

Oh, and just one more note on the above penguin study. It seems that if we take its results at face value, it may undermine previous studies on the effects of climate change, which have used the survival rate of tracked penguins as an important barometer.

What’s my point? It is that science, at least as practiced by mere humans, is often fallible, and rarely Godlike.

That said, it does seem logical that putting even a minute drag on one of a penguin’s flippers would have some ill-effects over the course of its lifetime, which I understand can be up to 20 years or more. And I agree that this is a problem, both for the penguins themselves, as well as for our ability to take meaningful data from our study of them.

The question is regarding the true scope of this latest study. Its authors claim it is “conclusive,” and that it “eclipses” all previous studies. But is demonstrating scientifically that something can do harm equivalent to demonstrating that it will do harm in a majority of cases? I would say no.

© Ruth Crisler and Spot Check, 2011.

Yesterday I returned from Detroit, where I attended a one-day course instructed by Mark R. Johnson, DVM, of Global Wildlife Resources and Feral Dog Weblog. Sadly, my schedule did not allow for a visit the Motown Museum, which looked pretty rockin’. Maybe next time.

The course, offered by Humane Society University, a branch of HSUS, was geared toward shelter workers and focused on humane capture and handling of fearful and feral dogs. I don’t work in a shelter, but do deal with fearful dogs in the context of training and kenneling. I’ve also followed Dr. Johnson’s blog for a bit and been impressed by his philosophy and handling techniques, particularly his use of Y poles in non-chemical capture and sedation.

Plus, the train ticket from Chicago to Detroit is dirt cheap.

Y pole use with feral dog in India

Listening to Dr. Johnson discuss the similarity between dogs and wolves, the reality of pack dynamics and hierarchy, and the value of what he terms “compassionate dominance” in humane handling of fearful dogs, reinforced several strongly held beliefs (and shocked a few in the audience).

While his focus is very specific, and does not pretend to touch upon training per se, the ideas he promotes are entirely relevant to dog training.

One of these is that food is not always a feasible tool in establishing trust and control. (Food may carry little or no weight in the case of a dog too fearful to take it, for example.)

Another is that dominance may be compassionate and submission beautiful. Moreover, he argues that accepting these concepts, regardless of the language used to describe them, is in many cases critical to handling dogs knowledgeably and humanely.

With so much anxiety and confusion surrounds those terms, dominance in particular, it is instructive and refreshing to hear them used accurately and unapologetically.

Many equate dominance with either force or intimidation, when in its purest form it involves neither. In fact, one of the most essential elements of true dominance is the avoidance of unnecessary conflict.

Not surprisingly, Dr. Johnson has a martial arts background, which informs his handling on multiple levels. For example, the focus on both internalizing and telegraphing the right energy and intention, and the relevance of correct breathing and posture. He also stresses the importance of staying in the moment and maintaining a tight psychological connection to the animal one is handling.

Dr. Johnson is a passionate promoter of the Y pole as a more humane and practical alternative in many contexts to catch poles, chemicals, and nets. He instructs worldwide in its proper use, which he describes as non-threatening, and which involves wielding the tool as an extension of one’s body. Here is some fascinating footage of their use in subduing a Mexican wolf.

Not sure what I’ll do with my diploma from HSU, given my opinion of that organization’s political and legislative mission. But I found Dr. Johnson’s thoughts on dominance, compassion, and humane handling no less valuable for who had engaged him to share them.

© Ruth Crisler and Spot Check, 2010.

The high court of South Dakota yesterday announced its verdict in the case known as South Dakota vs. Fifteen Impounded Cats.

This is one of those yeah-I-sorta-get-it-but-not-really situations. The facts of the case are as follows:

At approximately 11:15 p.m. on August 13, 2009, a police officer for the City of Pierre, South Dakota was dispatched to a local convenience store to respond to a complaint about a car parked in the parking lot occupied by a woman and a large number of cats. The officer proceeded to the parking lot and pulled up behind the car as its driver began to back out of the vehicle’s parking space, nearly backing into the patrol car. At that point, the officer observed that the view out of the back window of the other car was obstructed by numerous cats climbing on the seat backs and rear dashboard inside the vehicle. The officer approached the driver of the other vehicle and identified her as Edwards.

Edwards provided the officer with some information about having traveled from Texas, into South Dakota, through Pierre, and to Huron. Edwards further indicated that she was traveling back through Pierre on her way to Billings, Montana, and eventually back to Texas. Edwards stated that she had fifteen cats, that she had been living out of her car for several days and that she did not have any money.

In addition to the cats, the officer could see that Edwards’s vehicle was crammed full of personal belongings and clutter stacked on both the front passenger seat and all across the rear passenger area. The clutter allowed the cats to roam freely through the vehicle at a level or height that interfered with the driver’s visibility and limited her ability to safely operate and control the vehicle. The officer’s further inspection of Edwards’s car revealed that it did not contain any kennels or carriers suitable for safely transporting the cats, that there was only one litter box in the vehicle, and that the litter box needed to be cleaned out. There was also a strong pet odor emanating from the vehicle.

Let’s see. We have driving blind, arguable lack of inhibition, loads of exposure to cats, and an apparent absence of aversion to the smell of cat urine. Just sayin’. I wonder whether those Toxo scientists ever considered the possibility that some number of driving accidents suffered by Toxo infected humans were in fact the result of driving while under a pile of actual cats.

Although Edwards indicated that the cats were all spayed and neutered, she further stated that the cats had destroyed those treatment records.

Edwards then went on to describe how a dog had in fact eaten her homework.

Okay, if I were a police officer and a lady with fifteen cats milling about her vehicle nearly backed into my squad car while pulling out of a parking space, I’d be a little concerned for public safety myself, particularly if I’d recently been talking to Professor Robert Sapolsky.

And seriously, legitimate complaints over crappy precedent aside, South Dakota law enforcement should have some mechanism for dealing with a catmobile.

I do have some trouble with the argument that the occasion merited the impounding of these cats due to “exigent circumstances” surrounding their care. While I think being stuck on an interstate road trip with a crazy cat lady is an animal welfare issue for real, it should perhaps fail to entitle an agent of the state to summarily impound her animals without a warrant being issued.

Justices Glen A. Severson and Judith K. Meierhenry dissented, arguing that the majority misconstrued a law meant to prevent animal cruelty by turning “exigent circumstances” into a phrase that could apply to nearly anything. According to Stevenson,

The state provides no authority for the notion that animals traveling in a vehicle must be confined to kennels. It strains credibility to conclude that the facts of this case constitute the type of emergency situation requiring an officer to act quickly to impound animals without a warrant or court order in order to protect the animals.


Despite the State’s avowed concerns regarding Ms. Edwards’s ability to operate her vehicle amid her fifteen cats, the State did not cite her with a traffic violation. The claims of ‘exigent circumstances’ and inhumane treatment are a pretext. If safe operation of the vehicle was the concern, the police should have addressed that issue and not exposed the taxpayers to the cost of caring for animals wrongfully seized from Ms. Edwards.

Like I said, I get the point, but kinda not. Seems to me the circumstances warranted removing the cats to a secure location. Yes, right then and there. No matter how you slice it, driving under a pile of cats is unsafe at any speed.

© Ruth Crisler and Spot Check, 2010.

Then again, I’m not a cat person.

In case anyone is interested, a hoard of still shots of life at Caboodle Ranch can be viewed here.

A Little Backstory on the Front End

After roughly twenty years of regularly being called inhumane for using standard training equipment in the course of working with dogs and horses, I recently took some friendly fire from some folks who take my blog posts to be the work of an animal rights activist.

I take animal welfare seriously enough. Animal cruelty strikes me as basically degenerate and thoroughly deserving of stigma. Human society is well served in my opinion by laws that intelligently and effectively minimize its occurrence; and such laws, once enacted, ought to be consistently enforced. Of course, this presupposes one is drawing from a rational definition of cruelty, not a radical one.

The concept and enforcement of animal rights is a trickier proposition, both morally and legally. As for ill-conceived activist legislation, suffice it to say it’s not my cup of tea.

So I was relieved to read news of Tuesday’s Supreme Court decision, which came down hard against a 1999 federal law that criminalized the creation or possession of depictions of animal cruelty with intent to distribute.

As is highly traditional, the law in question appears to have been inspired by revulsion at non-standard sexual depravity, in this case a little known fetish that succeeded in generating a perfect storm of political grandstanding.

At issue were what are known, at least among congressmen and mainstream media, as “crush videos”, which I’m told depict stiletto-heeled dominatrices stepping on and killing small animals. Also not my cup of tea, incidentally, but chacun à son goût.

Crush Videos and the First Amendment

The law was aimed at crushing what was estimated to be a small but growing market. But, as is also traditional, Congress overstepped, fashioning a statute that effectively criminalized a much wider range of conduct, and in so doing ran afoul of the First Amendment.

The case, brought by the office of the Solicitor General, that put the 11-year-old Depiction of Animal Cruelty Act to the constitutional test involved author and documentary producer Robert Stevens, convicted in 2005 of selling three videotapes about pit bulls to undercover agents. He was sentenced to three years in prison, but a federal appeals court threw out the conviction. Stevens was also one of the first people charged under the act.

The films reputedly show pit bulls catching wild boars during hunting trips, engaged in a dogfight in Japan (where dogfighting is legal), and engaged in fights shot here in the US in the 60s and ’70s. By all accounts, apart from his lawyer’s perhaps, Stevens is pretty clearly in the business of glorifying pit fighting, which I’m sure strikes most of us as deplorable.

The problem is that darned amendment, which our Supreme Court justices seem pretty stuck on protecting against the wrongheaded efforts of narrow-minded do-gooders, in this case within the Department of Justice.

The essence of the government’s argument was that as with child pornography, the prevention of animal cruelty rises to the level of trumping free speech, and that because its depiction has no social value or expressive content, it is not entitled to First Amendment protection.

To put the government’s argument into perspective, the Supreme Court last declared a category of speech to be undeserving of First Amendment protection in 1982. That was child pornography. Other unprotected speech includes fighting words, obscenity, threats, libel, and incitements to illegal activity.

It is a short list.

So a key question in the Stevens case was whether animal cruelty rises to the same level of government concern underlying the above rulings. In other words, does the state have a compelling interest in curtailing depictions of animal cruelty, on the order of the interest it has in preventing riots, threats, and child pornography?

In an 8 to 1 ruling, the high court said no. Chief Justice John Roberts, writing for the majority, said,

Maybe there are some categories of speech that have been historically unprotected, but have not yet been specifically identified. But if so, there is no evidence that ‘depictions of animal cruelty’ is among them.

The Chief Justice also criticized the government for proposing a balancing test that would pit the “value” of any speech against its “societal costs,” saying,

As a free-floating test for First Amendment coverage, that sentence is startling and dangerous.


The First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech does not extend only to categories of speech that survive an ad hoc balancing of relative social cost and benefits.

Describing the “alarming breadth” of the law in question, Roberts explained,

A depiction of entirely lawful conduct runs afoul of the ban if that depiction later finds its way into another state where the same conduct is unlawful.

He pointed to the problem that since hunting is illegal in Washington, D.C., the law could be applied to

any magazine or video depicting lawful hunting, so long as that depiction is sold within the nation’s capital.

Roberts rejected the government’s insistence that federal prosecutors would only enforce the statute against acts of “extreme cruelty,” noting that

The First Amendment protects against the government; it does not leave us at the mercy of noblesse oblige. We would not uphold an unconstitutional statute merely because the government promised to use it reasonably.

Besides, federal prosecutors had already strayed from the purported mission of the statute by prosecuting cases involving depictions of dog fighting, as opposed to restricting themselves to

wanton cruelty to animals designed to appeal to a prurient interest in sex.

Those were the words used by President Clinton to describe how the executive branch would interpret the statute. In his opinion, Roberts points out that

No one suggests that the videos in this case fit that description.

In fact, none of the cases in which the law had so far been applied fit Clinton’s description. And no cases involving actual crush videos were ever brought. / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0“>

The HSUS and Wrongheaded Analogies

Wayne Pacelle, president of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) explains why:

That law dried up the market. It was very successful without a single prosecution. So we turned our attention to those peddling dog fighting videos. And all the arrests made under that 11-year-old statute were for selling dog fighting videos.

Okay, raise your hand if you are wondering why Wayne Pacelle is speaking as if the HSUS is personally driving these arrests. While you’re at it, raise a hand if you were wondering earlier just how it came to pass that Congress became aware of the threat posed to our nation by dominatrices wielding small animals. As it turns out, the answers are related.

According to an article by Lisa Wade McCormick for, Pacelle claims it was an HSUS investigation into crush videos that originally brought them to the attention of legislators. The HSUS also takes credit for fueling the current suit, which ended in the high court’s 8 to 1 smack down.

Did you think the HSUS was busy funding shelters? Their mission statement reads as follows:

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) is the nation’s largest and most effective animal protection organization. Established in 1954, The HSUS seeks a humane and sustainable world for all animals – a world that will also benefit people. We work to reduce suffering and to create meaningful social change for animals by advocating for sensible public policies, investigating cruelty and working to enforce existing laws, educating the public about animal issues, joining with corporations on behalf of animal-friendly policies, and conducting hands-on programs that make ours a more humane world. We are the lead disaster relief agency for animals, and we provide direct care for thousands of animals at our sanctuaries and rescue facilities, wildlife rehabilitation centers, and mobile veterinary clinics.

Providing care for “thousands” of animals may sound impressive, until you notice that their total revenue topped 100 million dollars in 2008, of which less than 7 million went to animal care facilities (while over 5 million went toward post-retirement benefits). Of course, with a name that trades liberally on its resemblance to that of myriad local Humane Societies, it’s well understood, not least by the HSUS itself, that donors commonly mistake the HSUS for a sort of umbrella fundraising organization for local shelters. But in fact, the HSUS has no such affiliation. And both Charity Navigator and The American Institute of Philanthropy have been critical of the HSUS for failing to live up to its mission.

Where does the money go? According to their 2008 Annual Report, the real money goes toward fundraising (over 27 million, or four times the sum going to animal care facilities) and a category of expense dubbed “Campaigns, litigation, and investigation” (over 28 million). You know, investigations like the one that supposedly turned up over 3,000 crush videos. Speaking of which, the HSUS claims crush videos are again proliferating on the internet. According to Wayne Pacelle,

Congress should act quickly to enact this legislation to prevent some of the most extreme forms of animal cruelty I have ever seen. Anyone who has seen the clips of women in high heels literally crushing small animals will understand the urgency in passing a bill to prevent the sale of these vile images.

Well, either they’ll understand the urgency of passing legislation, or they’ll… never mind. I for one couldn’t find any. Not saying they aren’t out there somewhere, readily accessible to those more in the know than myself. Just saying perhaps there are more pressing (no pun intended) issues to address.

Was that the strategy all along? I mean, the HSUS turned its attention to dog fighting videos pretty efficiently, despite the lack of any presumable “appeal to a prurient interest in sex,” almost as if that had alway been the plan. I tried looking for information regarding the HSUS investigation that led to the passage of the Depiction of Animal Cruelty Act in the first place, but couldn’t find anything beyond conflicting assertions regarding the volume of videos it uncovered.

I did find something interesting, though. I found the following statement from HSUS President Wayne Pacelle:

The federal Depiction of Animal Cruelty Law is the only tool available to crack down on this horrific form of extreme animal cruelty. We wouldn’t allow the sale of videos of actual child abuse or murder staged for the express purpose of selling videos of such criminal acts, and the same legal principles apply to despicable acts of animal cruelty.

Alright, raise your hand if you spotted the analogy. The one between animals (not even particularly intelligent ones) and children? Sound familiar? It’s the same flawed analogy used against remote training collars and a boatload of other things that are in fact appropriate for dogs, while being very bad for children.

Utopian Visions or Slippery Slopes?

Unfortunately, this is where the trail of animal rights often seems to lead, to a land in which dogs, cats, and maybe even mice (depictions of which beneath stilettos are very popular with the sexually deviant according to the HSUS) share the same protections, at least in many respects, as human children.

Fans of the “slippery slope” argument (or of crush videos and pit fighting), consider these idiotic analogies between the rights of animals and the rights of children to be a gift. I consider them tragic. They are a basic reason otherwise rational people may experience gut-level aversion in the face of supposedly undue concern for animal welfare. They are specious and simple-minded, and as such corrupt legitimate debate. And they are dangerous, at least in the hands of men like Wayne Pacelle, who harbor real-world ambitions to see them codified into law, and who sit on enough money, lawyers and lobbyists to succeed at doing so.

I would guess the “alarming breadth” of the Depiction of Animal Cruelty Act was not accidental. I would guess the test to the First Amendment that the statute presented was always anticipated. It would explain why HSUS investigators were searching for small animal pornography (granted, there is at least one alternate explanation). After all, if they were looking for material capable of inciting legislation that would put animal protection on a par with child protection, such a scavenger hunt would make perfect sense. As would the overly broad wording of the law itself, and the push to defend that wording to the high court against too much constitutional scrutiny.

I can’t prove any of that, but I can’t prove the existence of crush videos either.

In the meantime, I take care to tread carefully along the road between concern for animal welfare and lobbying for animal rights. It may be steep at places, but I’m reasonably sure of foot.

© Ruth Crisler and Spot Check, 2010.


spot-check: to sample or investigate quickly or at random

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