A little serious, a little satire, and all opinion on animal welfare.
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You may know that the Missouri legislature is currently working to overturn the recent improvements for dogs in commercial breeding kennels voted for by a slim majority of their State’s voters.  You probably don’t know that Pennsylvania’s 2008 Puppy Mill Bill, passed 49-1 in the Senate and 183-7 in the House,  is about to be gutted by our legislature.  Across the nation we are discovering a new democracy.  The power of a moneyed lobby coupled with a radical minority of legislators to steal protections and rights supported by a majority of voters doesn’t just happen in Washington, D.C. anymore.  It’s happening this week in Harrisburg.

Six Republican House legislators (Gordon Denlinger of Lancaster Co., Jim Cox of Berks Co. Jerry Stern of Blair Co, Mark Keller of Perry Co. Brad Roae of Crawford Co. and Bryan Cutler of Lancaster Co.), supported by the American Kennel Club (which profits from every dog bred and registered through them), have introduced House Resolution 89.  It is a laundry list of unsubstantiated claims about the so-called negative impact of the Puppy Mill bill- lost jobs, lost revenue, lost taxes, lost veterinary income.  And the cherry on top is a call to “study” the impact of the bill.  In government, “study” means one of two things.  Avoid doing something you don’t want to do or kill something you don’t like.  That “study” begins with hearings tomorrow.

I will leave the absurdity of the claims made in the Resolution to others who have addressed them in detail here and here.  I’d like to focus for a moment on the underlying goal, regardless of those claims.  That goal is to reverse a painstakingly crafted law with unprecedented citizen support that went through extensive committee oversight before being affirmed by 96.6% of the legislature, Republican and Democrat.  This was not a bill that squeaked by on a vote or two or passed in a referendum by a percent or two.  This was a bill passed into law in final form by affirmation. 

Now, a small handful of dogmatic legislators are seeking to wield their new majority power to return us to the dark ages of Pennsylvania, when we were the Puppy Mill Capital of the East.  Worse, they are using the current economic situation as an excuse.  They claim that things are just too hard now to require the final implementation of the new kennel regulations.  They think that Pennsylvania, which became the focus of nationwide derision for our lax commercial breeder regulations, can’t afford to fully implement this nearly universally supported law.  They say these poor commercial breeders can’t afford to make a profit on breeding dogs under the new, more humane requirements.  They say that despite the fact that an overwhelming majority of our State’s residents and legislators decided that the prior state of commercial breeding was bad for dogs, bad for our communities, and bad for our Commonwealth, we need to excuse the breeders from complying because of the economic impact on a tiny handful of them.

Excuse a few breeders to continue torturing dogs- and a lifetime spent in a dark, wire-floored kennel is torture- because it would be cheaper and better for the bottom line.  They think bottom line in a tough economy is the new arbiter of what is humane, just and moral?  Then why stop there?  Let’s excuse others who face a negative financial impact because of decisions of mere morality and justice.

Let’s excuse Wall Street from any financial oversight.  Audits just take away money from their bonuses.  It was only the collapse of the world economy.

Excuse the operators of the Sago Mine.  All those safety protocols cost them time and money from the bottom line.  It was only 12 dead coal miners.

Excuse Hosni Mubarak.  He kept down oil prices and it was only dictatorship.

Excuse the Taliban.  After all, we are seriously limiting our textile manufacturer’s opportunity to export burqas and it was only the subjugation of women.

Excuse the Confederate South.  The Civil War was hell on cotton producers and it was only slavery.

And excuse me while I get sick.

And before commercial breeder apologists whine about the unfairness of these comparisons, allow me to grant that I agree these are unfair comparisons.  But many of the people who claim that we can’t afford the protections we have nearly unanimously agreed to extend to dogs in breeding kennels are the first to tell us of all the bigger, more important issues we face.  I ask them: if you can’t stand by our decision to protect mere dogs from mere cruelty, why should we expect you to have the courage to protect our families, our state and our nation from those “bigger” worries?

A change in political power in Harrisburg doesn’t mean that every little fringe group of legislators has to get their time at a committee microphone.  I believe the vast majority of those in both parties view this effort as a cruel farce.  True, some may have “courageously” voted for the puppy mill bill, only to now be opportunistically in the group which is seeking to gut it.  But I think most see House Resolution 89 for what it is- a big business sham.  It’s up to us to put everyone in Harrisburg on the record about it.

If you don’t want to see a return to Pennsylvania’s puppy mill glory days, call and email your Representative and Senator, as well as House and Senate leadership now, especially if you are a Republican.  The Republican leadership has the power to kill this House Resolution and stop these hearings.  Tell them that this is not the kind of leadership you expect and that you will remember their decisions in the next primary and general election. 

Their actions on this House Resolution don’t just tell us how they feel about dogs.  It tells us how they feel about democracy itself.

How you can help:

Call and email your Representative and Legislator now and strongly urge them to oppose HR 89.  Find your legislator here.

Contact House Majority Leader, Mike Turzai (R), here and strongly urge him to kill these hearings and HR 89.

Contact House Minority Leader, Frank Dermody (D), here and strongly urge him to fight these hearings and HR 89.

Contact Senate Majority Leader, Dominic Pileggi (R), here and strongly urge him to refuse to take up this issue.

Contact Senate Minority Leader, Jay Costa (D), here and strongly urge him to fight against these efforts.

Contact Governor Corbett and strongly urge him to refuse to sign any law which weakens animal welfare protections.

Contact the PA GOP here and the PA Dems here and tell them what you think of running pro-cruelty candidates.

Attend the House Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee and express your strong opposition for HR 89.  

House Agriculture and Rural Affairs Committee
Date: Tuesday, March 1, 2011
Time: 10:00 a.m.
Location:Room G50, Irvis Office
Pennsylvania State Capitol
Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

Still have a couple emails left in you?  Review the list of AKC event sponsors below.  If you use their products, consider letting them know that you don’t appreciate their sponsorship of a company lobbying to weaken animal welfare laws in your home state.  They may not be aware of what the AKC is doing with thier sponsorship dollars.  Click on the name for contact links.

Invisible Fence Brand

Iams Pet Foods

Science Diet Pet Foods

TD Bank

Click here for a complete list of AKC event sponsors

*Thanks to Gil Scott Heron for the sampled structure of this piece.

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There is a place where those with money and power are permitted to do things that are violations of the law and of decency. They are protected from accountability by a government manned by those beholden to moneyed interests. Despite overwhelming public sentiment, these representatives refuse to make changes, hiding behind arguments like, “Addressing this will only lead to greater problems we can’t risk”. When the most vocal fundamentalist opponents choose to exercise their rights of peaceful assembly to protest the situation, those charged with protecting them stand aside while thugs intimidate and attack the demonstrators. Among the less strident establishment, even many of those who agree with fundamentalists do not join them because of fear of retaliation by those in power while others believe that the fundamentalists have some greater agenda which might be worse than the current untenable situation. Egypt? No.

Recently I wrote about the Missouri legislature’s attempts to overturn a majority vote of electorate calling for limits on their puppy mill industry. I called Missouri the Egypt of the mid-west and somewhat blithely stated that Pennsylvania was somewhat more subtle in its methods of stymieing the will of its people. I think I was wrong.

Of course, the situation I describe above is the situation involving pigeon shoots in Pennsylvania. Described in those terms the situation maybe has a whiff of the efforts of mid-east governments to maintain their control over the will of the people. I will be the first to say there is no real equivalence or true parallel. But there’s a whiff.

Today the whiff began to reek when I received an e-newsletter from one of the most vocal, active and fundamentalist groups battling pigeon shoots. It described their latest lawful and peaceful protest against a shoot held at a private gun club this weekend. Yesterday, two men drove down the road by the protesters and threw a bucket of water on them from their pickup truck and apparently got out and threatened the protesters. This was done in front of many witnesses and documented photographically. The protesters expressed their belief that they expected no police response since they had been harassed and attacked before, only to be ignored, if not targeted themselves by law enforcement.

When I saw the pictures of the men, one riding in the back of the truck as it raced away from attacking the protestors, it occurred to me that they might as well have been wielding canes and whips and riding camels to attack those assembled in Cairo to lawfully express their views.

Again, this is not Egypt. These people weren’t demonstrating to oust a dictator. The thugs weren’t released prisoners encouraged to seriously wound or kill the protesters. It’s not even close to being in the same league. But this isn’t Egypt, it is the United States of America. And I expect more.

In Pennsylvania, we have a practice which is either outright banned or considered animal cruelty in 49 other States. Despite the fact that there is no explicit allowance for the practice under the law and the current cruelty law would appear to prohibit the shoots, charges have not been allowed to be filed by the DA’s in charge of the counties in which the shoots occur (the Dauphin County DA has recently permitted a case to move forward). They have either blocked or withdrawn the charges; stating that the law does not, in fact, prohibit the activity. This deprives the real arbiters of what a law says, our judiciary, from weighing in. Many elected officials toe the line of big lobbying groups like the NRA, and some have even received campaign money from the lobbying group representing pigeon shooters. They block prosecution. They block votes on legislation. They ignore the overwhelming support of the general public for a ban and claim that banning the practice would lead to some greater erosion of freedoms and liberties. They must protect us from our naive desire to end this scourge. How delightfully benevolent of them.

When the most outspoken, the most truly fundamentalist, on the issue, finally have enough and do what our Constitution allows- demonstrate peacefully- they do not receive the protection of the law to which they are entitled. Because they have a bigger agenda, even those who agree on this specific issue will not support them because it is somehow viewed to be endorsing that greater agenda. So the wedges are driven in, further and further, and nothing gets done. There’s a whiff.

But the fact is, working with someone with whom you agree on a single issue does not obligate you to their full agenda. Who cares what these groups think about rodeos, eating meat, or hunting? The slippery slope is only as slippery as we allow it to be. On pigeon shoots, they are right and we should work together on this one thing, even if it is the only thing we ever work together on. Even if we fight against them at every other turn. Reagan worked with Gorbachev; it didn’t make him a communist. Mandela worked with de Klerk; it didn’t make him a racist. And every legislator and sportsman out there who has ever said, “I don’t like shoots”, “I’d never go to one”, or “Shoots aren’t sport”, should publicly work to ban these pigeon shoots. It won’t make you a vegan, gun-hating hippie. It will just make you on the right side of this issue and might finally end Pennsylvania’s shame and embarrassment.

It sickens me to think that we live in a state in which the money and power of a few can overwhelm the reasonable desires of the many. Where those who lawfully raise their voice in protest will be brutalized and can expect no help from those charged with protecting them. Where the rule of law can be circumvented arbitrarily, and often secretly, by those with the power to do so.

No, it’s not Egypt. But it’s closer than we should be able to think possible and closer than we should ever accept.

Post script: Those of us who deal with this issue regularly know a lot of the arguments but the general public may not.  I’m going to try to break them down one at a time for anyone who wants to see just how specious the pro/not-opposed camps’ arguments are.

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Our hearts are just bursting with pride that the pigeon shooting season is going to kick into high gear this weekend in Berks County!  This weekend (February 19 & 20) there will be a big two day pigeon shoot at the last remaining Berks County shoot location, Wing Pointe.  Unlike the two community, member supported sportsmens clubs, Strausstown and Pike, which have decided to get out of the pigeon shoot business (and deserve our vocal thanks), Wing Point is a privately owned business.  That means the shoots they have are truly for nothing more than fun and profit.  As long as there’s money to be made, there will be someone to cash in on this cruel, and illegal under Pennsylvania cruelty law despite the lack of willingness to prosecute by county DA’s, “sport”.  Not prosecuting something doesn’t make it legal.

Contact your PA Representative and Senator now and urge them, politely but firmly, that you expect them to support a law that will explicitly ban these shoots.  If you’d like to prepare for the runaround you may get, please enjoy this short video of an adorable little constituent talking to her adorable little elected representative.  It would be funny because it’s cute animals if it weren’t for the fact that this is real life.  Enjoy!

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We’ve sorrow enough in the natural way,
When it comes to burying Christian clay.
Our loves are not given, but only lent,
At compound interest of cent per cent.
Though it is not always the case, I believe,
That the longer we’ve kept ‘em, the more do we grieve:
For, when debts are payable, right or wrong,
A short-term loan is as bad as a long–
So why in–Heaven (before we are there)
Should we give our hearts to a dog to tear?

-Rudyard Kipling

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We often hear politicians talk about “the will of the people”.  It’s usually after they just won an election.  The people sent this message, the people sent that message.  Pass this, repeal that.  It doesn’t matter if the winners won by twenty percent or by twenty votes, when a politician or a lobby is on the winning side of an issue, the “will of the people” suddenly becomes paramount, and they lay claim to being its voice.

How quickly these advocates of populism abandon their principles when the will of the people goes against the will of the interests the politicians actually represent.  We’ve seen few better examples of that than what is happening in Missouri right now.  After last November’s victory of Proposition B, a ballot measure which puts strict controls on Missouri’s worst in the Nation puppy mill industry, the Missouri Legislature is lining up bills to overturn the outcome of the election.  They will nullify the will of the people.

Prop B was not a blowout victory by any measure.  But it was a victory.  The rules are the rules and the puppy millers lost.  In fact, the rules aren’t just the rules.  They are the rules crafted by the Missouri legislature.  If some elected representatives don’t like that the margin of victory wasn’t big enough, why didn’t they make different rules?  They could have required a supermajority for passing ballot measures.  But they didn’t.  They don’t get to call foul just because they lost a game played by their own rules and now they should accept the will of the people.

Personally, I am of mixed feeling about direct ballot measures.  Our world is rich with examples of the will of the people leading us down bad, if not evil, roads.  The will of the people has authorized slavery, genocide, holocaust, and the subjugation of women and children and the poor.  Our founding fathers protected our Constitution from the changing winds of public opinion by requiring an extremely high hurdle for amending it.  And even there we saw wildly popular- at the time- back to back amendments first outlawing alcohol; then legalizing it.  The will of the people is sometimes fickle.

However, Prop B was not an assault on our democracy or freedoms.  It was very limited decision by a majority of Missouri voters to put reasonable restrictions on the conduct of dog breeders in their state.  The same way local communities decide where to put strip clubs or what kind of building safety codes to enforce or where dangerous industry may be located and how it should function.  They didn’t ban it, they put limits on it.  They spoke, they voted, they won.  And now their legislators want to change the rules.

One would think they would be cleverer in circumventing the will of people and take a play from Pennsylvania’s book.  Pass puppy mill legislation and then render parts of it a farce by “interpreting” it in ways that still allow for dogs to spend their lives on wire floors with no access to exercise.  Or keep bottling up bills in committee which have overwhelming public support, like the tethered/pigeon shoot ban bills.  In Pennsylvania we circumvent the will of the people deftly and with subtlety.

Apparently in Missouri they prefer Mubarak’s approach: “I hear your concerns, I understand, now go home because I have absolutely no intention of obeying the clear will of the people.”  We can only hope that the politicians who vote to overule the will of the Missouri electorate reap Hosni’s harvest.

Pennsylvania has its failings, but at least we aren’t Missouri- the Egypt of the Mid-West.  Power to the people.

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