Death threat follows posting of trapped wolf picture

EarthIslandJournal “fair use” from

Imagine a wild animal lured to a baited foothold trap. The trap springs, catching the unsuspecting creature by the paw. Imagine–it isn’t difficult–the fear and pain; the thrashing attempts to free the firmly-clamped foot.

Now imagine people gathering to watch the terrified animal attempting to free himself. Guns–constant companions in this part of the world–are produced and shots are fired. The animal is hit but not down; a circle of pink forms in the snow, the trap’s anchor chain at its center. Pictures are taken; pictures are posted.

When the location is the Northern Rockies and the animal is a wolf, this scenario is not only feasible, it actually happens. This time it was in Idaho.

One dog too many

Anti-trapping sentiment picked up steam in the Missoula, MT area when, in 2007, a beloved border collie-cross died in an illegally-set body-grip beaver trap at a popular Forest Service recreation site. Cupcake, the dog, died in the arms of his frantic, anguished human.

Cupcake’s story was one too many for local activists weary of the way trapping flew under the radar, a mostly-hidden pursuit enabled by trappers at the state management agency, Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks. Traps littering public landscapes were not only catching, injuring, and sometimes killing companion animals, they were causing untold suffering and death for wild species–both intended and unintended (“non-target”) victims. Adding insult to injury, trappers pocket cash for the skin and fur of native wildlife dwelling on America’s public lands.

Cupcake’s terrible death drew grassroots activists together and Footloose Montana (Promoting trap-free public lands for people, pets, and wildlife) was born. Footloose came amazingly close–for a first-time attempt–to qualifying an anti-trapping ballot initiative in 2010, falling 1500 statewide signatures short (over 31,000 were gathered). Incidents like the one described above–a stark illustration of the cruelty inherent in trapping–only steel the commitment to try again.

Death Threat

After posting the wolf torture picture–copied from a trapping forum–on their Facebook page, Footloose personnel received this message:

Authorities–including the FBI–have been notified.

I should add that wolf-hater hysteria continues with at least one Republican candidate for Montana governor calling for a wolf trapping season (currently not legal). A population of 650-700 wolves is apparently too many for the fourth largest state–a state whose human population is ranked 44th with a scant one million.

Candidate Rick Hill worries that exceeding a wolf “tipping point” will cause irreparable harm. Says he: “The consequences of this are going to be a really poor hunting season this year…”
To read a full account of the Idaho wolf incident (including the trapper’s forum comments and photos), visit the Earth Island Journal. To support Footloose Montana in any way you can, visit their website or Facebook page.

This post first appeared on animal law blog Animal Blawg, where comments are accepted.

Eliminating roadkill: The bear went over the mountain–via the Animals’ Bridge!

Salish & English sign on the Flathead Indian Reservation, MT

Q: Why did the chicken cross the road?
A: To prove to the possum it could be done.

“Flat meat.” “Highway pizza.” “Pavement pancakes.” What most of us know as roadkill–often the butt of joke menus (“You kill it–we grill it”) and other hilarity–was once a sentient animal who just wanted to get from here to there. Isn’t that really what all us want? Simply to get on with the business of living our lives? But for our wild brothers and sisters, the road to survival often ends with, well, the road.

It’s bad enough that our constructed, manipulated, domesticated world is layered on top of what was once their home, resulting in ever-increasing loss of habitat. But then we throw insurmountable odds at them: Yeah, that interstate consumed considerable habitat, but it also fragmented what it didn’t consume. Good luck gettin’ across, li’l buddies! “One of the prominent effects of this type of destruction,” according to scientist and editor (The Encyclopedia of Earth) Dr. C. Michael Hogan, “is the habitat fragmentation effects of long linear projects, especially roadways that create permanent barriers to habitat continuity.”

So human activity–logging, agriculture, resource extraction, urban and residential construction, and all the infrastructure that supports these activities (roads! pipelines! more roads!)–voraciously consumes and fragments habitat, making life untenable for wild individuals and sometimes entire species. And then there are the humans themselves. Imagine the turtle making slow, steady progress across the roadway–he’s crossed the centerlinehe’s on the shoulder now…the grass is only two feet away–when Joe Psychopath intentionally swerves to hit him (research & video).

“Most people don’t realize how many animals die on the road every day — they just don’t see it,” said a volunteer for the California Roadkill Observation System, “the first statewide effort to map roadkill using citizen observers,” according to “Mapping Traffic’s Toll on Wildlife” (New York Times):

A new, $2.75 million interstate crossing for mule deer on the Utah-Nevada border made the news in early September–the decision to build it “based on a cost-benefit analysis that looked at human fatalities and damage done to cars.” OK, so humans are only looking out for Number One, but deer–who experience far more fatalities in collisions–benefit, too.

Bumper sticker: “PRAY FOR ME, I DRIVE HWY. 93”

Move to west-central Montana and it doesn’t take long to figure out that roadways here are dangerous. Speed limits are too high, shoulders on winding, two-lane highways are sometimes nonexistent, grass and foliage grow tall, and rural nights are dark. And then there’s Montana’s renowned wildlife and drunk drivers!

But there’s good news: US Highway 93 South now features 19 successful wildlife crossings in a 25 mile stretch through the Bitterroot Valley. Research findings (still ongoing, 2008 to 2015) based on motion sensor camera data reveal a high success rate for animals using the crossings over varying periods of time. We’re talking a 98% rate for deer and turkeys choosing to use one crossing during a 600-day timespan (success is defined as those who use the crossing as opposed to those repelled by or moving parallel to the crossing. Find an easily-accessible PowerPoint with photos here, and full, third quarter research results here.)

The People’s Way and the Animals’ Bridge

We recently headed out on a day trip north of Missoula, traveling US 93 North toward Arlee, MT on the Flathead Indian Reservation. I knew we would pass under the Animals’ Bridge on this stretch of the People’s Way, and hoped for a photo despite the narrow shoulder and dicey parking situation.

Reconstruction of the 56-mile stretch of US 93 north of I-90 represents many groups and governments that came together to improve the dangerous route. While the road moves people in vehicles, simultaneously moving on land around and across the road are grizzly and black bears, deer, elk, moose, pronghorn antelopes, painted turtles, skunks, rabbits, otters, birds, and many others (click through a slideshowhere–don’t miss the amazing photos of an owl flying through a culvert crossing!).

Notes project partner Defenders of Wildlife in a blog post a couple months ago:

I managed to get my photo of the Animals’ Bridge as cars whizzed by a little too close on the busy two lanes. It was easy to appreciate the planning, time, and expense that went into the beautiful crossing, and especially gratifying to know that saving animal lives wasn’t merely a side benefit to saving human lives and property, but was intended from the get-go. “What if YOU were the animal?” asked one compassionate child who entered a poster in the Safe Passages for Wildlife art contest sponsored by the People’s Way Project (see all entries & winners here).

Slide show-click image

Slide show-click image

That child’s empathy is echoed in the words of a resident who lives near one of the People’s Way crossings: “This is a bear crossing, and there’s a couple but this one seems to be the one that’s most active. I’ve had four bears through here and what people need to know is this is their territory, it’s not ours. I mean if you want to live in the woods you gotta take the animals with it, it’s part of living here.” ~Animal crossing structures saving lives in Western MT
Further resources:
*People’s Way Partnership on Facebook
*People’s Way FAQs, MT DoT; all animal photos
*Research on Highway 93 wildlife crossings nearly complete – Missoulian, 6/20/13 (click on pictures for slideshow)
*Post-construction wildlife crossing structure monitoring – here
*”Wildlife use of…crossing structures on US 93 North in MT” video (embedded below)

Comment on this post at animal law blog Animal Blawg.
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Snapperfest -or- Hoosiers gone wild (and stupid)

Google images

A couple weeks ago I wrestled with the idea of pig wrestling at the Western Montana Fair. Turns out my healthcare provider, Western Montana Clinic, was one of the sponsors. Yes, healers–people whose empathy should be well-developed–sponsored an event where frightened pigs and piglets are chased and wrestled into a bucket. These things leave you shaking your head: Who finds this kind of stupidity entertaining? Why would any savvy business person agree to sponsor something with an element of cruelty? One species’ “fun” is another species’ terror–is this so hard to grasp?

Now comes Snapperfest and, as a native Hoosier, I’m loathe to report that Indiana has to claim it. Snapperfest takes place in southeast Indiana along the Ohio River where the Kentucky and Ohio borders meet the Hoosier state. If you visited the Rising Sun/Ohio County, Indiana tourism website in the days leading up to event, the first thing you saw was a disclaimer disowning anything to do with Snapperfest. Now there’s a ringing endorsement!

If, by now, your curiosity is aroused, it’s likely your sense of dread is also on high alert. And right you are, an animal species is once again the unwilling target of crass human stupidity posing as entertainment.

Snapperfest pits grown men against snapping turtles. A 2009 YouTube video (nine minutes) will show you everything you need to know about the quest: Run to a tank, reach in, grab a snapper, run back to the staging area, forcibly wrestle the turtle’s head out of the shell, and grab the turtle’s neck in your fist, preferably with all fingers intact. Mission accomplished!

One Snapperfest YouTube video has already been removed; it’s anyone’s guess how long the 2009 version will be displayed. (As of last Friday, it was openly available for viewing; as of Saturday, you had to sign-in to view. But it’s also available here without any hassle.) Are those knives coming out of sheaths at the 1:50 mark? Note the aggression of the “turtle wrangler” at 5:40; watch a Snapperfester drop his turtle at 7:30.

But it’s “good clean fun” and the turtles don’t get hurt, we are assured. “There ain’t no abuse to the turtles whatsoever,” says one old timer. PETA unsuccessfully attempted to halt (page already removed) this year’s Snapperfest–it was held Saturday, 8/20–and plenty of outrage has filled the ether. The folks at the Campshore Camp Ground, host to Snapperfest, have been hammered by phone calls from every state in the U.S. and some foreign countries. They seem genuinely baffled as to why their “harmless fun” would rile anyone.

Was there ever a species so large-brained and still so clueless as Homo sapiens? A species so entitled to get its mindless jollies and ego stoking at the expense of other species? Wrestling pigs, roping calves, manhandling turtles, rounding up rattlers, blasting prairie dogs, gawking at captive animals in zoos, circuses, and water parks, racing horses, wrestling steers…and all the while clueless or indifferent to the fact that the exploited subjects are sentient individuals who simply want what we want: to live, and live free; to pursue their lives free of fear and suffering.

If you weren’t up for nine minutes of Snapperfest ’09, here’s a shorter clip (thanks to the World Animal Awareness Society) from this year’s spectacle. Just one minute, one contestant, and one tortured turtle. Watch this and you’ll understand why it’s not a good day to be a Hoosier. Being human probably won’t seem so grand, either.

This post first appeared at animal law blog Animal Blawg, where comments are accepted.

The lion sleeps tonight–and so should you. List the lion!

It’s a safe bet that when President Richard Nixon signed the Endangered Species Act in 1973, African lions weren’t anywhere on his radar. “Nothing is more priceless and more worthy of preservation than the rich array of animal life with which our country has been blessed,” he wrote in his signing statement on December 28th. “It is a many-faceted treasure…”

Thirty-seven years later in 2011, a coalition led by the International Fund for Animal Welfare petitioned the U.S. Secretary of the Interior to list Panthera leo leo under our nation’s ESA (find the petition here). It lists the usual culprits–loss of habitat and loss of prey due to human activity–as serious threats to lion survival. Throw in human population growth, the bushmeat trade, civil unrest, and desertification, and the King of the Jungle is hurting. Lions have disappeared from 78% of their historic range–which was most of Africa with a few exceptions–very dry deserts and very wet forests.

But why should a foreign species be listed under America’s Endangered Species Act? Because the U.S. is the largest importer of lions and their parts, and “American hunters pose a major threat to a species that is already in serious decline”:

Trophy hunting is an abhorrent pursuit, depriving an individual of his or her life merely for an ego-massaging taxidermy mount and bragging rights. But here’s the added rub–a trophy hunter doesn’t selfishly snuff out just one life:

Hunting is “good” for African lions

The Great White Hunter, 1909 (Wikimedia Commons)

Would it surprise you to learn that Safari Club International (SCI) claims that hunting is good for Africa’s lions? Didn’t think so. Click here for a lion “preview” page from SCI’s online record book. Be sure to scroll down for the photos of the gloating Great White Hunters with their conquests–one guy is even giving the “thumbs up” over his dead beast.

SCI 2011 convention – Wikimedia Commons

Matthew Scully, in his excellent 2002 book, Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy, devotes an entire chapter (“The Shooting Field”) to SCI. An international organization with 50,000 members and 180 local chapters (according to Wikipedia), SCI maintains record books and award levels. “By the time you have attained all…awards in all categories…you will have extinguished the minimum-required 322 animals,” (Dominion 57). Scully goes on to debunk SCI’s claims that trophy hunting is an altruistic pursuit, supposedly benefiting African villagers and local economies.

Your call to action: January 28, 2013 deadline

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has issued a preliminary finding that endangered species listing may be warranted for the African lion. Public comments to be included in the status review are being accepted until the end of Monday, January 28, 2013. If you haven’t weighed in yet (I personally was asleep at the switch; many of you reading probably commented weeks ago), time is running out.

Click here if you want to review the documents related to the African lion proposal.
Click here to submit your comment.

Don’t overthink this–the message need not be a lengthy, researched tome. The Scientific American article is a good information source; advocacy facts are available from most animal conservation groups–here are some from Born Free USA. Five-ten minutes of our time for the survival of the African lion and you–and I–will sleep better tonight. That’s only fitting, knowing that–at least while he (and she) still roams the earth—The Lion Sleeps Tonight.

Comment on this post at animal law blog Animal Blawg.

Hey Chicago–animal suffering lies behind that scenic splendor

Dear Chicago:

We need to talk. You can trust me–I’m practically a native daughter. Heck, from my hometown in Indiana, we can look across Lake Michigan and see your skyline (well, on a clear day). I’m a Cubs fan, ’nuff said! But I’ve lived in Montana for going on 14 years now, and if all this doesn’t qualify me to have a frank discussion with you about those tourism ads papering the city…I’m just sayin’.

Well I remember Chicago Tribune columnist Barbara Brotman’s mock hissy fit back in 2010 when Montana’s Office of Tourism started targeting the Windy City. She wrote:

She went so far as to challenge Chicagoans to fight back with a “Take THAT, Montana” photo campaign (view photos here) wherein Tribune readers were to match Montana’s scenic glory, photo for photo, with their own Land of Lincoln natural splendor.

Now comes word that Ms. Brotman has conceded in the face of a tourism office surge when, on May 1st, Montana ramped up its million dollar campaign and stuck it to Chicago big time. “I have been well and truly vanquished,” she lamented.

Hey Chicago, didn’t your mama ever tell you that beauty is only skin deep? That a pretty face don’t make no pretty heart? (I learned that, buddy, from the start!) Look here, Chi-town, if your BFF fell fast and hard for a gorgeous guy but one whom you knew to be a cad, wouldn’t you say something?!?

Well, I’m sayin’ something. Some ugly traditions and politics lie beneath Montana’s gorgeous exterior. If you care about animals and abhor their suffering, listen up.

You big city folk probably aren’t too familiar with the wolverine. Montana is the only state in the lower 48 to still allow the trapping of wolverines–rare, uber-wild, elusive bundles of attitude. Trapping for pleasure and profit is alive and well in Montana, using cruel devices that clamp onto feet, crush bodies, or snare and garrot necks. There’s no mandatory interval in which trappers must check their traps for suffering animals, though 48 hours is suggested. Fewer than 175 wolverines remain in Montana; the breeding population is far smaller. And now climate change threatens the species’ requirement for deep, persistent, springtime snow to protect babies in their dens. So much so that the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has proposed listing wolverines as threatened–a proposal the state of Montana has vowed to fight. Nope, a pretty face don’t make no pretty heart.

Wolves. Only two years off Endangered Species Act listing and Montana can’t kill them fast enough. Just this past season, 225 were slaughtered–128 in a hunt, and 97 in traps. But that wasn’t enough, so the state has proposed an upcoming 6-1/2 month season, a five-wolf bag limit, no statewide quota, no slaughter-free buffer zones around Glacier or Yellowstone, and has OKd the use of electronic calls (so much for Montana’s highly-touted “fair chase ethic”). A commonly-seen bumper sticker around these parts reads, “Wolves: smoke a pack a day.” Nothin’ pretty about that.

Dogfighting. It’s a felony in all fifty states, but in only one is it still legal to attend as a spectator. Guess which one, Chicago? In what should have been a slam-dunk against crime and animal abuse, Montana legislators in February killed a bill (never allowing it out of committee) meant to close the spectator loophole. That dangerous slippery slope is to blame: too much regulation of animal cruelty in, say, dogfighting might lead to regulation of animal cruelty in…wait for it…rodeo. I kid you not. Despite repeated testimony from law enforcement that spectators enable dogfighting by providing cover for criminal organizers, it was simply more important to ensure that calves can be snapped by the neck with impunity in rodeo events. Beauty can be shallow, indeed.

Agents haze mom & calf who later died-click for story

Bison. Entire books have been written about the complex issues surrounding the persecution of Yellowstone’s wild bison at the hands of Montana’s livestock industry. Some animals seasonally migrate out of their protected home in the park and onto the adjacent, predominantly public lands in Montana where they’re considered intruders on their own native turf. Since the year 2000, 4,250 of America’s last wild, free-roaming, and most genetically-diverse bison have been killed–rounded up and sent to slaughter on your taxpayer dime, or shot in a so-called hunting season (shooting a bison has been likened to shooting a sofa or a parked car), or hazed (sometimes to injury–video here–or death, as in the case of these newborn calves) by agents on ATVs, snowmobiles, horseback, and by air in helicopters. And you thought the buffalo wars ended in the 19th century!

Look here, Windy City, I love Montana’s drop-dead awesomeness as much as the next guy, and maybe more because I’m a hiker and backpacker. Yellowstone (mostly in Wyoming, but Montana claims three of five park entrances), Glacier, the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness, the Beartooth Plateau–this is serious, knock-your-socks-off stuff and I understand how lucky I am to have it readily available. I don’t hate Montana, as some will stand ready to accuse.

But oh how it rankles that the state exploits its world-class beauty and wildlife to lure visitors’ dollars with one hand while persecuting animals for sport and private commercial interests–often in the face of public opposition–with the other. It’s only right that you see this–the seamy side–too, as you face the onslaught of breathtaking Big Sky images on your daily commutes.

I read that two Chicago commuter train cars are fully sheathed in photo wraps of bison in Yellowstone. I can certainly understand the choice of that image. Stand in the park and gaze upon such a scene and it’ll bring tears of humility and wonder to your eyes. Yellowstone is the only place on the planet where wild bison have survived continuously since prehistoric times. You’re looking at something precious.

Perhaps you can now understand the bitter irony that some of us Montanans perceive in the use of that image. Just thought you should know.

Comment on this post at animal law blog Animal Blawg.

Love it…list it…stuff it? African lion listing open for public comment


LionAid photo; click image

Tuesday, 1/27/15 at 11:59pm EST: LAST DAY TO COMMENT! Link to comment is below.

From the Have Your Cake & Eat It Too Department: The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) has announced that it intends to list the African lion as threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) … while continuing to allow the importation of lion trophies by American trophy hunters under a permit system.

Who’s hailing this decision as a victory?

Yes, the Clubbers are celebrating. And because some protection is better than none at all, luminaries like Jane Goodall have praised the decision, along with International Fund for Animal Welfare personnel, who call it a “win for lions.” IFAW, you might recall, was one of the petitioners seeking the more stringent endangered status back in 2011. At that time, IFAW’s North American director Jeff Flocken warned that, “Our nation is responsible for importing over half of all lions brought home by trophy hunters each year. The African lion is in real trouble, and it is time for this senseless killing and unsustainable practice to stop” (Scientific American).

Flocken appeared on the PBS Newshour recently (video & transcript) to both praise the decision and to again assert that trophy hunting is a significant factor in lions’ precipitous decline–from 75,000 animals in 1980 to some 32,000 today. This is in contradiction to the assertion by FWS Director Dan Ashe that trophy hunting plays no role in lions’ survival woes even though the species “faces the threat of extinction by the year 2050”:

And, indeed, some protection is better than none at all. And sure, regulated importation of lion trophies is preferable to trophy-palooza. But why act as if those are the only choices–even as the ominous clouds of extinction gather on the horizon? The answer may lie, in part, in a news release from Safari Club International:

How that money was used to influence FWS is a question American wildlife advocates should be asking. Instead of promptly eliminating a frivolous and easily-relieved pressure–the gratuitous, violent squandering of imperiled animals for ego gratification–FWS is praised for instituting a kill-’em-to-save-’em measure that regulates the approximately 400 lion trophies imported by U.S. hunters each year (source).

Let’s also note that SCI, while preferring threatened status to endangered, fundamentally disagrees with the decision to list lions at all and plans to “vigorously work to modify” the ESA’s section 4(d) rule. It’s under 4(d) that the permitting mechanism will be established, allowing “importation of sport-hunted African lion trophies” into the U.S. from those countries FWS has determined to have effective lion conservation programs. In addition, SCI wants to ensure that captive-bred lions killed in South African canned hunts (video) do not fall under the ESA importation process.

FWS could have shut down trophy importation of African lions, but instead proposes spending time, personnel, and taxpayer money regulating it while imperiled species here at home languish in ESA purgatory. Consider FWS’s recent mishandling of the proposed wolverine listing (a mere 250-300 animals remain in the Lower 48!), and you gotta wonder to what degree pressure from powerful interest groups crowds out science to influence listing decisions.


Since you and I don’t have a million bucks to use as leverage, we’ll have to go to bat for the big cats like we did back in January 2013. So get your Leo-lovin’ self over to the USFWS Endangered Species African lion page, from which you can link to the “Threatened status for the African lion” public comment portal. There you’ll find related documents, a blue “comment now” button, and–if you scroll down–you can peruse recently-submitted comments.

John Dingell, at 88 the longest-serving member of the U.S. House of Representatives and a lead author of the 1973 Endangered Species Act, penned these cautionary words in 1991: “Living wild species are like a library of books still unread. Our heedless destruction of them is akin to burning the library without ever having read its books.”

The Lion Library isn’t in flames yet, but it is smoldering. And though it can’t save the species single-handedly, USFWS stands ready with a fire extinguisher–the ESA–in one hand, aiming to tamp down America’s contribution to the coming conflagration. In the other it holds a copy of the Section 4(d) Special Rules with which to fan the flames ever so slightly. It proposes to use both–simultaneously–the latter to benefit the wealthy few and their ghoulish, ego-driven trophy obsession. How do you feel about that?


Learn more:

  • Explanation of ESA section 4(d) special rules, here.
  • “The lions sleeps tonight–and so should you. List the lion!” my original post, 1/26/13.
  • “The effects of lion trophy hunting on lion populations,” LionAid, a UK charity org.
  • “The myth of trophy hunting as conservation” (a 2010 paper from the UK).
  • “African lion may be deemed threatened in U.S.–will it help?” Nat’l. Geo.
  • Dingell quote from: “Balancing on the Brink of Extinction: The Endangered Species Act and Lessons for the Future,” 1991, here.

Comment on this post at Animal Blawg!

The animal rights movement: “A beast that needs to be slain”

Western Montana’s Bitterroot Valley in Ravalli County is known for its stunning mountain scenery and its oft-stunning conservatism. Deep-canyoned east-west drainages rising toward the Idaho divide serve as a gateway to the 1,340,587-acre Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness. The valley’s politics often serve as a gateway to extremism. Guns? Lordy. Militia? In the works. A hunters’ group, hoping to encourage more dead wolves (the only good kind), offered prize money for photos of wolves killed in districts where hunting quotas hadn’t been met. The county planning board (subdivisions and all that –yawn- stuff) hosted an expert on Agenda 21, a U.N. plan to steal our freedom and our property, destroy the Constitution, use environmentalism to create a one-world government, and relocate most Montanans to urban areas like Seattle. In a recent Bitterroot Memorial Day parade–Memorial Day, mind you–a pickup towed an outhouse labeled “Obama Presidential Library.” You get the picture.

And so it was, driven by curiosity, that a public seminar titled “The Human Cost of the Animal Rights Movement” caused me to give up half of a recent Saturday and head up the valley. A couple months earlier, a newspaper blurb announced the same program at a meeting of the Missoula Tea Party Patriots, so I generally knew what to expect. The organizer, a professional horse breeder cum Christian horse rescue director cum horse slaughter proponent, had this to say to a Ravalli Republic reporter in the run-up to the seminar: The animal rights people want to give animals equal rights to human beings. …They also don’t want us eating animals. They are vegans. They’re getting more and more creative about finding ways to come in the back door” (article).

As a vegan animal rights activist, I thought maybe I could learn a thing or two about what I believe. Or more accurately, what others believe I believe. I was also curious about that back door approach. Upon arriving, we received hand-outs on which a large heading exhorted us to know the difference between animal welfare (good) and animal rights (bad):

Other websites listed included the usual exploiters and front groups for exploiters (list available here)(website removed). Two presenters, both scheduled to address the “wolf issue,” failed to appear. The first one cancelled in a snit over sharing the stage with the second one, we were told, and the second one simply didn’t show. What he might have said can be presumed from the brief trailer to his film, “Crying Wolf: Exposing the Wolf Reintroduction to Yellowstone National Park.”

I heard everything I expected to hear and then some. The premise: Animals are property, and the animal rights (henceforth AR) movement is a threat to property ownership and subsequently to animal agriculture and all uses of animals. Horse slaughter (“harvesting”) is a necessity to save the horse, the horse industry, and our way of life. PETA and the Humane Society of the U.S. (HSUS) are enemies to be vanquished. Wolves are a threat to life, livelihood, and property. Christianity and patriotism are on our side.

The morning commenced with roughly 18-20 (ultimately 24-25) people in the audience, two security guards, and a handful of helpers. Items from my notes follow in the order they were presented by the organizer and director of Willing Servants, the horse rescue group (italicized parentheticals are my clarifications):

  • There’s a huge difference between animal rights and animal welfare–it’s warfare right below the surface of our society and the AR people want you to be confused.
  • AR is totally atheistic, it’s against God’s plan and this is worth fighting for. People of agriculture can no longer be on the defensive—we have to go on the offensive. It’s about far more than the horse—we have to see the big picture. I believe in human exceptionalism and we have dominion over animals.
  • No horse should suffer, but we also can’t worship them and the AR movement is leading us down this path. Surely we can see the mistakes made by people in India who worship a calf while the people starve.
  • Word choices matter. ‘Humane horse harvesting’ is more pleasing to the ears, more appropriate. Slaughter is indiscriminate killing–although ‘slaughter’ is used in the Bible. Harvest: to take something and turn it into a usable product.
  • PETA & HSUS are unethical, they’re willing to go to any degree to get what they want. Ethics matter.
  • The further removed from Biblical and agrarian society we become, the more problem we’ll have with AR. It’s not about taking better care of animals, it’s about ending animal ownership.
  • (While showing a slide of the PETA comic book, “Your Mommy Kills Animals”) They’ve run Jesus out of schools, but this is tolerable.
  • (After reading naturalist Henry Beston’s beautiful quote about animals as “other nations”–at my website) I read that and about fell off my unicorn! Other nations! Last time I checked, we are ONE nation under GOD!
  • The AR movement is about everything else but protecting humans.
  • (Speaking of Romans 14) I almost peed my pants I was so happy to find this: ‘One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables.’ (The larger text goes on to instruct against judging others.)
  • (Regarding the Willing Servants program “CowKids for Christ”) I teach them horsemanship skills, give them Bible verses, and let God do his wondrous work. If we’re Christians, then none of this AR stuff is OK.

Horse processing done right

After a breather, a Wyoming state legislator and horse slaughter entrepreneur assured us that the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act applies to every species of animal. (Actually, the nine billion or so chickens killed in the U.S. each year are exempt.) “People can be vegans,” she allowed; “I hope you’re not bringing kids up to be vegan because they’ll probably be brain damaged—but I’m not going to tell anyone how to eat.” She showed a menu from a Harvard dining hall—1980s era—that had horse steak on the menu.

While her primary remarks were geared toward making sure that horse “processing” happens in the U.S. and happens right, she also addressed what she considers over-regulation of other animals: “In the U.S. Department of Agriculture today, seven vets are charged with nothing but regulating elephants, only 70–maybe it’s 170–elephants in the entire country.” And puppy mills: “USDA is overregulating dog breeding to an incredible degree and it’s bleeding over: Well, we inspect dogs, why can’t we inspect sheep?

As the seminar wound down, we learned about the Cavalry Group, a legal defense network for those persecuted by the government-AR cabal:

Finally, as talk returned to the mechanics of the captive bolt gun and horses, a politician in the audience commented that he had once worked in a slaughter house. “In six months,” he said, “a captive bolt gun never once misfired.” (It doesn’t always go so well.) “Slaughterhouse owners want the process to go smoothly because the more you kill, the more money you make.” At this, an enthusiastic voice from the audience called out, “And there’s nothing wrong with American capitalism!”

Digesting the day’s meaty fare


larger image – click

Personally, I find PETA’s comic book “Your Mommy Kills Animals” misguided and deleterious and suspect that it was originally created as much for media attention as for “converting” children. But how convenient it is to brandish it nine years later and act as if the entire, multi-faceted AR community–if indeed community is even the right word–is a cohesive whole that believes and supports the same thing.

“They don’t want you to have pets.” Is it that easy? I thought about my four-legged companions waiting at home–shelter rescues all three, two of them virtually unadoptable. If I were offered the choice of “no pets” as the means to eliminate the squandering of four million individual cat and dog lives every year–true, I would choose “no pets.” But my hypothetical choice is too nuanced, well-reasoned, and complex to work as her easy blanket condemnation.

“AR people don’t care about humans.” Maybe that’s true for some…I wouldn’t presume to know. As for me? I spent many years working for a social service agency that assisted rape survivors and economically-disadvantaged youth. I was a Girl Scout council professional, served as co-leader for a troop of developmentally-disabled high school girls, and ran a program introducing inner-city kids to nature. I went back to college at 40 to become an educator, teaching on an Indian reservation and other schools where I was paid poorly in economic wealth but richly in other values. Those are a few of my contributions to my own species, and they are not negligible. How dare any animal exploiter tell me that I’m “about everything else but protecting humans.”

I think of the animal activists I know. We rescue everything from moths drowning in birdbaths to turtles and mice; from cats, rabbits, and dogs to goats and llamas. One runs a sanctuary for formerly farmed animals. A couple sell their own plasma to support horses purchased at auction and saved from kill buyers. Others are willing to stand up in hostile territory and advocate for wolves, for circus animals.

And yes, some are vegan; many are not. Some are church-goers, and many aren’t. Some are spiritual; others, agnostic. Maybe there’s an atheist or two in our ranks. As a rule, we don’t care. As a rule, we aren’t hung up on “animal welfare vs. animal rights”; we’re hung up on compassion and justice. We want to transform a world of cruelty and greed into a just place for animals to live their lives. It’s that simple.

So when I hear that “the animal rights movement is a beast that needs to be slain,” as I did at this seminar, and that the animal rights movement and the people who compose it are godless and don’t worship the correct deity but do worship animals, that their extreme beliefs are unAmerican and anti-human, I wonder: Just whose views are extreme? I recall the words of Robert F. Kennedy, who said,

“What is objectionable, what is dangerous, about extremists is not that they are extreme, but that they are intolerant. The evil is not what they say about their cause, but what they say about their opponents.”

This post also appears at animal law blog Animal Blawg, where comments are accepted.

The Men Who Prune Goats

PETA – click image

The Coast Guard motto is Sempre Paratus, “always ready.” We can rest assured that, when the need arises, they will indeed be ready to clip the legs off living goats using tree branch trimmers. They’ve apparently undergone rigorous training in Virginia to perform this very act.

A whistleblower caught the heinous deed on video and PETA released it. The Coast Guard is defending the use of live animals in combat medical training, saying,

Oh, whew! No legs, no pain, no problem.

Dr. Michael P.Murphy, associate professor of surgery at Indiana University School of Medicine (and an Iraq war veteran) said,

According to the Huffington Post, Dr. Murphy “was among the medical professionals who signed PETA’s letter to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta seeking an end to the practice.”

Remember the movie, “The Men Who Stare at Goats” ? I can’t help but connect that to this. Both propositions–psychic soldiers who stare at goats to kill them with paranormal powers on the one hand, and mutilating goats to ostensibly save humans on war zone battlefields on the other–are beyond ludicrous. Happily, one is fiction, stars the Most Handsome Man in the World, and features music from one of the Best Classic Rock Bands ever. The other, sadly, is true, funded by taxpayers, and features the extremity of hubris, a human flaw with a very long history.

According to Wikipedia,

What can be more shaming than for one’s body and life to be considered entirely disposable? We need not search far to explain how goats end up mutilated on crude operating tables: it is the tyranny of human exceptionalism. Pity the nonhuman animal, born so far below our exalted station in the universe. Beings of no moral consequence, they are ours to use and squander in the pursuit of our own species’ self-serving goals.

At this point it would be easy to go all high flown and quote Michel Montaigne (1533-1592), French Renaissance essayist and Skeptic, and I think I will:

I imagine the Coast Guard goat pruners looking down at the anesthetized creature and seeing a thing of little consequence, one with no investment in living, one with no connection to nor any moral claim upon “its” captors. Merely a means to a noble (read: speciesist) end. Others of us would see a different vision: a fellow sentient animal, one as much like us as different from us, a relative in the deeply-rooted, widely-branched family tree of the Animal Kingdom.

Having grown up in a Great Lakes port town with its own Coast Guard station, I’ve always had a soft spot for that branch of the service. These were the public servants who were always ready–Sempre Paratus–to rescue stranded boaters, to pull struggling swimmers (and sometimes their bodies) from the lake, to protect the marine environment. But that benign image has been replaced with a sinister one, though it’s possible that many a Coast Guardsman and woman are as horrified as I.

If humans were really so exceptional, we’d find a way to use our considerable talents not to wage war on our own and other species, but to benefit all. Instead, we mutilate “lesser” beings as a patriotic exercise, failing to recognize that the shame is reflected on the perpetrator; refusing to accept the most likely denouement for the human drama–that the protagonist is surely headed for a fall.

This post first appeared at animal law blog Animal Blawg, where comments are accepted.

Is rodeo humane? No buckin’ way!


Click for photo credit & article

Some links in this post were updated in April 2016.

It’s summer, and summer means rodeo. Crowds buzzing with excitement; the sound of groans, gasps, and cheers filling the dusty rodeo grounds; pretty rodeo queens waving to wide-eyed kids–and neck-snared calves hurtling through the air and slamming to the ground shaken, terrified, and sometimes injured. You can’t get family entertainment like that just anywhere!

Ah, rodeo. Romantic, tragic rodeo, the stuff of legend and country music. Tales of love–and life–lost to rodeo. George sang it inI Can Still Make Cheyenne; Garth sang it in The Beaches of Cheyenne.

A different tune–sad and true–came out of Cheyenne recently, when a saddle bronc was fatally injured and euthanized at the Cheyenne Frontier Days rodeo–”The Daddy of ‘em All.” SHARK (SHowing Animals Respect and Kindness) captured the horse’s collapse in a brief video. A second horse died as a result of the “wild horse race” event, captured here. “Almost immediately the animal injuries start(ed) piling up,” SHARK reports on its page. Scroll down at that page for the first calf roping injury video, also. (Three separate steer injury videos and a second horse injury can be viewed at the conclusion of the saddle bronc video linked above.) Note: Some SHARK pages have been moved since this blog was written in 2011.

Given the volume of injury in just this one rodeo, the following claim by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association stretches credibility:


SHARK photo-click pic for website

Apologists for rodeo industry cruelty will tell you that “the contests were designed with thorough knowledge and respect of the animals’ capabilities and limitations, and are regarded as reasonable use of animals” (Friends of Rodeo) (page is gone; new page). Reasonable use of animals? You’ll find this harder to swallow than a big ol’ cow pie after viewing a few of the videos referenced above or below…guaranteed.

The PRCA (see their explanation of animal welfare vs. animal rights here) governs roughly one-third of U.S. rodeos and repeatedly points to their 60 rules, “…the most comprehensive set of animal welfare rules in the sport of rodeo…” PRCA not only wrote the rules, but also enforces the rules. Accountability? You’ll have to take their word for it, as information about violations and penalties is a closely-guarded secret. Read SHARK’s take on the rules here, and decide for yourself who has the best interest of animals at heart.

Brutality masquerades as Western tradition in calf roping, team roping, and steer wrestling, where burly men test their mettle by manhandling frightened domestic animals. Today’s timed and judged competitive events are a far cry from the ranch and range skills from whence they came. Watch a few more videos–this one from Killeen, TX in 2007 includes calf roping, the use of electric prods on horses to move them out of the chutes, and steers whose tails are painfully twisted into a rope or raked over the bars of the chute so they’ll explode out when the gate opens, escaping one torture for another. (Note: This video has since been shielded with a sign-in requirement. Also find it here.) And this one, a montage of rodeo cruelty.

Kids born into the rodeo life learn the ropes early with their own events–the odiously-named “mutton busting” and goat and pig chasing (“We use fresh pigs every time we go,” you’ll hear the announcer say in a generous nod to animal welfare; he delivers this message above the frantic squealing of piglets being dragged by their hind legs). Goat tying–a youth and girls’ version of calf roping–is popular in high school rodeos. Watch as the small, tethered goats attempt to flee the approaching horses and riders to no avail. The Vancouver Humane Society, addressing “animal welfare issues at rodeos and stampedes” says this at

Watch enough of this stuff (as I have done today)–the downed horses, the calves jerked into the air by the neck, the steers roped by head and hind legs in team roping events or wrestled to the ground with a violent wrench of the neck–and you’ll start to feel numb. You might have to remind yourself that this stream of brutal images has as its object unique and sentient individuals, frightened and hurting and sometimes permanently broken. And don’t forget that the rodeo industry supports horse slaughter. “A large percentage of broncs are the result of specialized breeding programs designed to produce horses that want to buck,” according to Cowboy Way. Where do those who don’t want to buck go? Where do injured and worn-out bucking horses go? A large animal veterinarian with former ties to rodeo discusses rodeo animals’ fate at Stop the Rodeo! (To go directly to her statement, click here. She’s also interviewed in a 9-minute “Hard Copy” expose’ uploaded to YouTube in 2007 and worth a look.)

Can change be wrought? Yes. In 2007, one of Canada’s largest pro rodeos–Cloverdale in British Columbia–eliminated the violent timed roping and wrestling events after the death of a calf (this came on the heels of an earlier steer death) and protests and disruptions from animal activists at Liberation BC. The exploitive rodeo industry won’t give ground willingly, but the hearts and minds of compassionate humans–the many who say they “love animals”–can be won. Those of us who advocate justice for animals must lead the way peacefully and persistently.

Rodeo isn’t wrong just because animals are injured. Rodeo is wrong because it denies (or worse–disregards) animals’ sentience and uses them as nothing more than disposable means to an end–a buckle, some cash, a name in a record book. It treats thinking, feeling beings as mere currency with which to purchase these desires. To head-off the predictable and simplistic retort, “If you don’t like rodeo, don’t go,”–listen up: it’s not about me. Justice for the oppressed and exploited has never been won by staying home and keeping silent. Denying anyone else their good time isn’t the point, either. But when your “fun” cruelly exploits those who can’t defend themselves, boy howdy, I’m speakin’ up.

The Western Montana Fair rolls around in August, and with it the Missoula Stampede Rodeo, a PRCA-sanctioned event. I’ve scoped out the ticket price–$15 ($16 in 2013) for a good seat, $10 ($12 in 2013) for a cheap seat. I’ll be sending a $15 donation–the cost of a rodeo ticket–to SHARK to help keep their cameras rolling. If the price of admission to your nearby rodeo (or Missoula’s, if you aren’t near one) won’t break the bank, you might consider doing the same. We can blog, comment, and share our outrage until the cows come limping home, but talk is cheap. SHARK’s kind of action, on the other hand, requires a cash flow to keep exposing the hard evidence of rodeo industry cruelty.

Notwithstanding the abundant evidence of abuse and cruelty, there’s a trend afoot where rodeo public relations hacks promote the “livestock” as “animal athletes.” This sleight of phrase is just what you’d expect from an industry desperate to convince the public that rodeo animals are willing participants in the bodily assaults, snared necks, twisted tails, prod shocks, and binding flank straps they endure.

Are you buying it? Me neither. No buckin’ way.

A version of this post first appeared at animal law blog Animal Blawg, where comments are accepted.

Shrine Circus 2015: “Turn and stand” for animals

DSCN1227“F—ing dopers!” This invective was snarled in our direction as we stood outside the Adams Center on the University of Montana campus in Missoula one recent April weekend. Inside the Adams Center, the Shrine Circus (produced by the Jordan World Circus) was putting enslaved animals through their miserable paces at the business ends of whips and bullhooks.

“F—ing dopers”? We clutched signs reading “Have a heart for circus animals”; “Cruelty isn’t entertainment: Have compassion”; “Circuses: No fun 4 animals,” and the like. Our assemblage of 22 activists–people who set aside chores and pleasures to show up 53 times over two days and five performances–ranged from a six-year-old to several retirees, some sporting lustrous, silver hair; one was retired from a career in finance, another from federal service. We included a former teacher and a current teacher, an equine rescue volunteer, students, an archeologist, an insurance claims examiner, an adult education specialist, and a case worker in geriatrics. “F—ing dopers”? Really?

Plenty of insults and negative comments came our way, but this goes with the territory–you smile and let them roll off. At the one Saturday performance he attended, the six-year-old’s mom was accused of child abuse (“…making your kid stand out here holding a sign”). This, from a woman herding her own kids inside to witness the very real exploitation and abuse of thinking, feeling, and suffering nonhuman animals. “And you call yourselves Montanans!” growled a guy whose voice dripped with contempt and repugnance.

Reaching out, making a difference

But as always, good things came our way, too. One young woman observed our line of peaceful activists and announced, “This takes courage.” A number of people revealed–sometimes self-consciously–that they agreed with us. As in years past, many of those then indicated that their presence there just couldn’t be helped–they “had” to attend with children who’d received free tickets in school. The Shriners have special access to school systems and have distributed as many as 16,000 free tickets “from Polson to Darby” in western Montana. I’ve appealed to the Missoula County Public Schools trustees twice, asking them to reconsider their promotion of circus cruelty to the students in their charge.

Two young adult couples walked toward the venue and exchanged greetings with their friend–one of the activists in our line–no doubt getting an eyeful of her large sign (“Cruelty isn’t entertainment: Have compassion”). Moments later they walked past us again–this time heading for the parking lot, calling out to her as they passed: “We changed our minds because you!” We erupted into cheers. The last time circus-goers turned around and left–and let us know it was because of our advocacy–was at the Carson & Barnes circus in July of 2011. (That was also the last time C&B set up shop in Missoula.) Those are highs that stick with you!

A mom and her young adult daughter showed up on the first day, first-time activists at this particular outreach. After introductions, the woman revealed that she had actually attended the circus in 2014, at which time she’d observed our respectful and friendly advocacy. This year, she explained, “I’ve come back to stand with you.” After the first performance, she came back again–and brought another daughter. They returned again–and again. She was present for four out of five performances, an unforeseen appointment delay the only thing keeping her from the fifth.

“What is magnificent about humans is when they decide to turn and stand,” said activist-actor James Cromwell. “If they respond with non-violence on principle and hold their ground, they are really magnificent.”

This piece is dedicated to that woman who turned and stood in such dramatic fashion–from circus-goer to circus activist in the space of a year. It’s dedicated to those who, at one time or another, sooner or later, younger or older, were willing to face a reality they could simply no longer deny, and so decided to turn and stand for oppressed and exploited animals.

I’m grateful to know and stand with these magnificent people.
UPDATE: Last September (2015), Missoula became the first Montana city to ban wild/exotic animal performances in city limits. The ordinance will take effect July 1, 2016. News report here.
Learn more:

  • We distributed “Break the Chain” flyers from Animal Defenders International
  • Tribeca Film Festival Interview: John and James Cromwell (the quote comes from this interview); he talks about his role in “Babe” and his veganism in this interview.
  • “Missoula needs to catch up on animal education,” my 4/2/15 guest column in the Missoulian
  • Visit the Other Nations ‘circus animal exploitation‘ page for a zillion links.