Ingrid Newkirk's Blog
February 26, 2010
Eyebrows are shooting up in the animal protection world, as SeaWorld has hired professional animal entertainer Jack Hanna to sing its praises in public. Given his own record of responsibility for numerous animal attacks (including an incident in which a chimpanzee he was using in a public display bit off a 5-year-old girl's finger) and his history of using underage animals who should be with their mothers instead of in noisy crowds and under bright lights, Hannah seems a good fit for SeaWorld. Despite its heavy public relations efforts, the marine park has a long history of getting away with murder while turning a fast buck. For example, the statements from SeaWorld about what a surprise, shock, and accident it was that the orca Tilly had drowned and pounded a seasoned trainer to death in Orlando deserve careful scrutiny. It was the third time that that particular orca, named Tilly, had killed a human being (Tilly's son also killed a trainer last year in Spain), both other deaths having also been dismissed by the amusement park as "accidental" when they were likely anything but. The marine amusement park environment is rife with deaths, close calls, and injuries.
As Jason Hribal writes in his soon-to-be-released book, Fear of the Animal Planet: The Hidden History of Animal Resistance, Tilly and two of the other orcas, who have also attacked, came from Sealand of the Pacific in Canada, a facility that closed after the death of a trainer there caused by an orca. That attack, "carried out by Nootka, Haida, and Tilikum left the park in a public relations freefall. Administrators promised changes. New safety procedures would be initiated. Physical contact between the trainers and whales will no longer be allowed. Guardrails will be installed along the poolside to prevent slips or bites." All the same things that SeaWorld is saying as it hopes for the story of the trainer's death to go away. But in Canada, back then, public pressure did not let up. As Hribal writes, "Between the daily protests at the park's front gates, national demands that the orcas be released back to the ocean, and the city council's entrance into the debate, Sealand's will crumbled. In August of 1991, the park reached a startling decision. 'After a lot of thought and discussion,' the director clarified, 'it was decided killer whales should be phased out.' "The twenty-nine year old institution had closed permanently."
SeaWorld bought the three whales who had attacked, including Haida's newborn calf, for $5 million. The decision was made in secret, and the export permits were granted behind closed doors. The public at large was not allowed into the conversation. Hribal reports that Nootka died in 1994 at the age of 13 and that Haida and her calf, Ky, went to San Antonio. "Three years after the death of his mother in 2001, Ky made news of his own," writes Hribal. "That July, during a performance in front [of] a thousand people, the orca jumped on top of his trainer and repeatedly pushed the man underwater." The man escaped with his life but just barely. SeaWorld's statement had the same familiar ring. They tried to pass the incident off as a silly misunderstanding, roughhousing, and dismissed any idea that the trainer was in danger. Here's Hribal: "Witnesses did not buy it. As one of them explained, 'the whale was staying between the [exit] ramp and the trainer and finally the trainer jumped on top of the whale's back and leaped over him and another trainer caught him.'" What belies SeaWorld's statement that the orca was in a playful mood is that the orca then turned around and slammed his body down hard on the ramp.
There are so many victims in this saga--the trainers, the captive marine mammals, the children who watched people die--but truth has been the longest-running victim of the lot.
If the only thing that SeaWorld understands is money--and it has made millions off the backs of orcas like Tilly--then one hopes that if public protestation doesn't do the trick in shutting it down, the lawsuits that are sure to arise will.
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February 22, 2010
I know the photos are upsetting, believe me. But you have to understand a problem in order to fix it. And that's what we want you to do--to start understanding the real source of the problem. The killing of homeless and unwanted animals isn't going away, and it's not because animal shelters don't care (they do, and many workers pour their hearts into their work). The real reason--and here's the truly shocking part--is that many dog and cat lovers are the problem. That's right--the very people who should care the most are often the ones who create the problem.
Shelter workers will tell you that dogs and cats come through their portals with embroidered blankets, painted toenails, or folders filled with "papers"--signs that the animals were once valued. Some were bought on a whim as Paris Hilton-style "arm candy," and others were surrendered because their guardians went off to college; went on vacation; moved north, south, east, or west; married someone who was allergic; got divorced; or couldn't be bothered to cope with the animal's barking, fur, size, or normal physical and psychological needs. (Surprise--animals actually need to be fed and walked, and their litterboxes need to be cleaned too.)
Many of the "dumped" are living, breathing testaments to the collapse of sub-prime mortgages and loans. We acquired beyond their means, so when times got hard, pink slips arrived, and bills mounted, thousands of Princesses and Peppers and Peaches ended up on the street, literally and figuratively. And they're still pouring through the doors of animal shelters--the ones, that is, who weren't left in abandoned houses, later to be found barricaded inside closets or on chains in backyards.
Some refugees from human failures and home foreclosures will languish in a shelter cage for life. You can see them, turning in ever tighter circles; barking frantically at every visitor, as if to recount their story; or sitting with their backs turned to the world, unresponsive to sweet talk, all hope gone. Every one of these anxious individuals must wonder how it is that this guardian or that family, their family, their person, who they believed would always be there to care for them, has vanished, leaving them confused and displaced in an unfamiliar and uncomfortable cell.
Unwanted dogs and cats are, in their own way, a bit like carbon emissions: They are invisible to most of us because they are kenneled in animal shelters that are often tucked away on the wrong side of the railroad tracks, in impoverished neighborhoods, or down country roads. They are hidden, unlike the animals in bright, shiny mall pet shops. Like carbon emissions, they are the product of careless and egocentric lifestyles and a reluctance to connect the dots.
This year, animal shelters will be forced to kill millions of wonderful dogs and cats for want of one thing: a good home. Why? Because many of the people in your local dog park or veterinary waiting room--people who truly love their dogs and cats--have behaved irresponsibly by obtaining an animal from a pet shop or breeder and failing to have him or her spayed or neutered.
These are the people who are responsible for taking the lives of homeless animals--not your local shelter workers. For, just as buying clothes that were made in sweatshops supports child labor, buying a dog or cat from a breeder or pet shop contributes to the death rate in shelters. Let me be clear: There is no such thing as a responsible breeder.
When people buy a dog or cat, perhaps they think that homeless animals don't factor into their purchase, or perhaps they are honestly oblivious to the hundreds of thousands of animals who are waiting on death row at that very moment. I'm sure that such people don't see themselves as signing some animal's death warrant when they sign their credit card receipt, but that's what they are doing. They have room in their home and heart that could be filled by rescuing one of those wonderful, loving dogs or cats who were booted out, got lost, or fell victim to a human's accident or death. They would have felt that animal's gratitude for years to come.
There is one more way in which people add to the crisis, and that is by fooling themselves into thinking that it doesn't count if they breed their dog or cat just one time. But it does matter very much. Please join PETA in calling on the governors of all 50 states to endorse mandatory spay-and-neuter laws that would require dogs and cats to be sterilized unless their owners purchase an annual breeding permit--the cost of which would fund low-cost spay-and-neuter services.
Everyone who breeds their dog or cat believes that their friends will flock to take home the new arrivals. After all, that animal is the prettiest and smartest in the world. But again, a pound pup or shelter Siamese could fill that space (to say nothing of the spaces that will later be taken up by the descendants of those new puppies and kittens if they aren't spayed or neutered before they're given away). And if homes can't be found for all those adorable pups and kittens, people find themselves handing them over the counter at the animal shelter accompanied by those six conveniently guilt-shifting words, "You won't kill them, will you?"
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