Animal News Year End Round-up -- 2007 By DawnWatch
DawnWatch offers up its yearly report of happenings and events of 2007 that affected animals and their rights. Here's the report for 2007.
It's Christmas morning. Before I shut down my computer until January 3, 2008, I will enjoy fulfilling what has become a DawnWatch tradition -- a scan of the media stories of the year. Because I feel so blessed to do this work, Christmas morning seems the most perfect time to sum up a year of it.
For dogs, 2007 was the year of "fake fur" coats made from real dog fur, of the Menu pet food crisis, of celebrity pet store blunders, and the year of Michael Vick.
In February the Humane Society released a report telling us it had tested garments being sold at popular outlets and had found many garments labeled faux but containing real fur. Also, fur labeled as raccoon was sometimes from wild dog, or domestic dog, including a German shepherd-collie mix. The story got widespread media play, even in People magazine. While animal advocates may dislike the suggestion that dog fur coats are more repugnant than others, the dog angle got the media. The widespread coverage reminded the public that all fur coats were once live sentient animals.
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On March 16, Menu Foods announced a recall of 91 pet food products sold under some of the country's best known brands. Early coverage reported 10-15 cats and dogs dying after eating canned and pouched foods. Sadly, that number was widely repeated by the media even when it became clear that it only included the cats and dogs who died in Menu's test lab -- not the true number of animals, which is estimated to be in the thousands. A superb piece published on the San Francisco Gate website, by Christie Keith, told us "Nearly one month passed from the date Menu got its first report of a death to the date it issued the recall. During that time, no veterinarians were warned to be on the lookout for unusual numbers of kidney failure in their patients. No pet owners were warned to watch their pets for its symptoms. And thousands and thousands of pet owners kept buying those foods and giving them to their dogs and cats." We have since learned, from the Toronto Globe and Mail, that the chief financial officer of Menu Foods Income Fund sold nearly half his units in the pet food maker less than three weeks before the massive recall. He called the timing a "horrible coincidence."
This year the media occasionally featured Britney Spears and Paris Hilton. Falling into that focus were their purchases of puppies from a Bel Air pet store. For years, with limited success, animal folks have been trying to get the media to cover the horror of the puppy mills that supply pet stores. The Britney and Paris hook did the trick. The story gained momentum throughout the year, with Entertainment Tonight, in October, airing a puppy mill segment recorded for PETA by Charlize Theron some years ago. On the Saturday before Christmas, the biggest puppy buying day of the year, actorvist Carole Davis led others such as Law and Order's Richard Belzer and comedian Carol Leifer, in a protest outside the usually celebrity stocked pet store, and closed it down for the day. The protest got some great media, and you can watch the fun original video covering the event:
In 2007, the hideous practice of dog fighting finally got massive media attention when Michael Vick was arrested for it. There were reports that he was involved in many dog deaths including the electrocution of a dog after she lost a fight. After failing polygraph tests while denying he killed dogs, Vick finally admitted to hanging a dog and eventually owned up to another dog killing. He was sentenced, in December, to twenty-three months in prison. The dogs taken live from his property have been retired to the Best Friends sanctuary. For a short time there was so much media ,Vick seemed to be the new Britney.
The scandal inspired a storyline on the hit drama series CSI, detailing the cruelties of dog fighting. It aired December 13 under the title "Lying Down With Dogs."
That brings us to the remarkable coverage this year of animal issues on mainstream television, in hit drama and comedy series:
In January, on the popular show "Veronica Mars," Veronica was hired to investigate the disappearance of a monkey stolen from the campus lab. We learn that while the animal rights kids were suspected, the monkey, Oscar, was actually taken by a science student who couldn't bear the thought of the monkey being euthanized, which was Oscar's fate at the lab. Thus millions of American teenagers learned the fates of monkeys who die in laboratories for trivial purposes. Of course, Veronica decided not to turn in the science student for his act of compassion.
Also in January, ABC's Boston Legal took a look at animal testing. Bethany defended Matthew, accused of harassing a woman named Bella who owned a cosmetic company that tested its products on animals. Matthew's organization had been protesting outside the business and saying it kills and tortures animals. When Bethany cross examined Bella, she said: "The truth is, you do kill and torture animals, do you not?...Your company uses rabbits?.You lock them in stocks so that just their heads stick out. You clip their eyelids open and poor chemicals into their eyes while they are left there for two weeks to experience ulceration, bleeding, and massive iris deterioration. Do you not subject these animals to excruciating pain?...Sometimes the rabbits break their own necks trying to escape."
Later in the year, in December, David Kelly and Boston Legal took on meat and the environment. In one episode, the head of an environmental organization was distressed to see massive energy waste at the law firm's offices. He sued, claiming that the firm had misrepresented itself as green. Cross examining the head of the green group, the lawyer asked if he eats meat, and explained, "I only ask because studies show eating meat contributes more to greenhouse gases than driving a car. Denny says you two often have rib-eye together. Is that true?" When the defendant said he didn't believe eating meat is worse for the environment than driving a car, the lawyer responded, "It is. Contaminated runoff from slaughterhouses is a major source of water pollution. Livestock itself contributes 18% of greenhouse gases just from, pardon me, farting. That's more than all the planes, trains and automobiles put together."
Boston Legal takes its storylines from current affairs. How wonderful that this year both animal testing and the impact of meat diets on the planet were current affairs deemed important and topical.
Even on comedy shows, serious animal issues were tackled. In April, on The King of Queens, Doug found a live chicken for whom he developed affection. He and the audience were treated by his neighbor to a film about slaughterhouses. Doug went veggie. By the end of the episode he could no longer withstand the onslaught of the fast food advertising campaigns; he gorged on burgers. But the issue was portrayed in such a way that Doug's lack of will power, while funny, was also sad. In fact the topic of animals and meat was handled with surprising sensitivity throughout the episode.
The boys on HBO's Entourage rescued a racehorse who was bound for "the glue factory," reminding viewers of the fate of the losers.
And even reality TV got into the act. On Fox's "The Two Coreys," one Corey supported PETA and invited a PETA representative over to show slaughterhouse footage to the other.
HBO, known for its superb documentaries, this year aired "I am an Animal," about Ingrid Newkirk, the founder of PETA. If you missed it, you can get it "On Demand" or on Netflix. It is a fascinating documentary, which includes animal cruelty information everybody should know—and which, thanks to HBO, quite a few people now do know.
The Wall Street Journal covered Smithfield's announcement that it will phase out sow gestation crates. Those are individual cages in which sows spend much of their lives. They are too small for the animals to turn around or lie down in with legs outstretched. The phase-out will be over ten or twenty years, so we continue to push for bans. This year Oregon became the first state to pass a legislative ban on the crates. In 2008 we hope to make California the third state to do so by ballot initiative. The initiative will include bans on restrictive cages for calves raised for veal, and for laying hens.
Even Wolfgang Puck went welfare, announcing early this year that he would no longer sell foie gras, and that he would introduce animal welfare standards for the meat prepared in his food empire. He also vowed to introduce more vegetarian dishes.
Last year there was much news about elephants; this year some of it turned good. Los Angeles's Ruby was retired to the PAWS sanctuary in Northern California. And Maggie, the lone elephant in Africa for years, has just joined her. The Alaskan zoo finally agreed to let Maggie go after she collapsed in her barn twice in a week, unable to stand without the help of local firefighters. We thought we were going to lose her but she is now safe at the sanctuary.
While we continue to spread the word about the animal cruelty of circuses, unfortunately the widely watched Bachelor took a group date to one this year. But we see other signs of light. Last weekend, as Ringling arrived in Florida, the Palm Beach Post published a searing indictment by Florida radio host Duncan Strauss. You can read it at http://tinyurl.com/ywpr44
The Bachelor also swam with dolphins. The UK Independent did a piece in January focusing on the link between dolphin slaughter and the use of live dolphins for human entertainment -- such as in swim with dolphins programs. It told us that thousands of dolphins are chased and killed, with a few of the best specimens being sold live to the highest bidders, for tens of thousands of dollars each. Only a celebrity ensures coverage in America, and this year, during Japan's annual dolphin slaughter in November, the dolphins got Hayden Panettiere, the young star of Heroes. She accompanied Ric O'Barry to the Taiji killing beach. The media went mad. Shows such as "E" and "The Insider" covered the story. Even though they needed the celebrity hook, the coverage was not fluff. The Insider included horrifying footage and pointed viewers to http://www.savejapandolphins.org/ to get involved and try to help bring the annual slaughter to an end.
Paul Watson and Sea Shepherd's work for the whales was featured in a lengthy New Yorker story, and in an interview on NPR's Diane Rehm Show with the author of Whale Warriors.
Efforts to ban horse slaughter remained in the news through 2007. We learned from a Houston Chronicle front page story that the closure of US slaughterhouses has led to mass trucking of unwanted horses on long journeys to Mexico for slaughter in facilities where no humane laws apply. The American Horse Slaughter Prevent Act, which would ban not only US horse slaughter but also the transport of horses to slaughter elsewhere, is now needed more that ever. At https://community.hsus.org/campaign/FED_2007_horse_slaughter3 you can send letters to your legislators urging their support.
Animal issues also got indirect but important coverage this year as those who refuse to eat or wear animals hit the trendy mainstream. 2007 was the year of Vegan Chic. We saw Today Show coverage of Vegan accessories, a piece in The Boston Globe on a professional image consultant whose specialty is vegan fashion, an article in Forbes magazine on a high-end vegan shoe-designer, and leading papers publishing articles such as "Style goes vegan."
The New York Times Dining Section featured vegan chef Isa Chandra Moskowitz on its cover, in an article titled, "Strict Vegan Ethics, Frosted With Hedonism." Newsweek broached marriages between vegans and omnivores. And, astounding to many of us, this year Gourmet Magazine announced that it would start running regular vegetarian features, and editor Ruth Reichl wrote "how much more food there would be if we all ate vegetables instead of feeding the plants to the animals and eating their meat." She also wrote, "It is becoming increasingly clear that we ought to change our ways. We live in a society that consumes more meat than any other group in history. There are currently more than three billion domesticated cattle, sheep and goats in the world - and that number does not include the 100 million pigs or the 9 billion chickens that we consume every year in this country alone. Livestock grazing and feed production now use 30 percent of the surface of the planet, and that takes a toll on the environment. Eating so much meat takes a toll on us as well: Most health professionals agree that we would be better off if we consumed less meat and more vegetables."
The same magazine, in June, covered chicken slaughter, sharing gruesome details of standard practices. Gourmet!
Veganism's move to the mainstream got a push from
, a vegan diet book that sold well from the start, but which hit the number one spot on the New York Times best seller list after Victoria Beckham was spotted with a copy. 850,000 copies are now in print!
Vegan fighter Mac Danzig won Spike TV's "Ultimate Fighter" championship.
And the New York Times Magazine section's "7th Annual Year in Ideas" included "Vegansexuality," the term for those who seek intimate partners who share their compassionate lifestyle.
Perhaps vegetarianism saw its hottest mainstream spike when vegan actress Alicia Silverstone promoted vegetarianism in an advertising campaign naked. If you missed the spot you can still see it at http://www.peta.org/feat/alicia_psa/index.asp. And check out Jimmy Kimmel's monologue from his September 20 show. It includes a spoof on the ad that is well worth watching. The monologue is on line at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EYOVELcTnu4 and you can skip to 7:50 to watch the Alicia segment.
This year, at Thanksgiving, there were so many articles on vegetarian feasts that DawnWatch couldn't possibly cover them all. I had to "settle" for the New York Times Thanksgiving Day front page article on turkey rescue!
Activists taking the animal protection message into faith based communities made news with a lead article in The Los Angeles Times. The article noted the work of Best Friends, and of the new "animals and religion" program at HSUS, and of Bruce Friedrich from PETA. The Los Angeles Times also covered PETA's undercover investigation of a hen farm run by a Trappist Monastery in South Carolina. We learned that the monks were raising the hens under standard industry conditions, and learned the cruelty of those conditions. Just before Christmas the monastery announced that it will halt its egg farming business.
Also late this year, Foxnews.com published two groundbreaking pieces about shocking cruelty at a pig slaughterhouse—just in time for the Christmas ham season.
We wish Gretchen Wyler had been alive to see them—and all of this years' amazing coverage. In May we lost the Golden Age Broadway star who founded the Genesis Awards, an award show as glamorous as she was, which honors animal friendly media. We will miss her but know that her legacy, the Genesis Awards, is stronger than ever. What a media selection there will be to choose from this year!
I have been working on DawnWatch for eight years. Every year, as I look back and see the immense increase in the amount and depth of coverage of animal issues I get a little weepy. We are getting somewhere. I thank all of you who care. This year I particularly thank the many of you who made my job easier and helped out everybody, by sending me media tips and links when I could not find the time to dig them up. Many of you know I have spent most of the year writing and putting together a book. It is called "Thanking the Monkey: Rethinking the Way We Treat Animals," and will be published by Harper Collins in March. I so look forward to readings and to meeting some of the thousands of wonderful activists behind the email addresses I see on my screen. Your care and commitment is changing the world.
Wishing us all joyous holidays that renew our strength for the compassionate campaigns of 2008,
Yours and the animals',
DawnWatch is an animal advocacy media watch that looks at animal issues in the media and facilitates one-click responses to the relevant media outlets. You can learn more about it, and sign up for alerts at http://www.DawnWatch.com.