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Dubai looking to improve animal welfare

DUBAI: Michael Sartagna was frustrated. Walking through the city he has called home for the past five years recently, he saw a man kick a dog. The dog fought back and was eventually chased away by a group of angry passersby.

“It was upsetting,” the 33-year-old Italian-American businessman told “I just wanted to know more about what is going on with animals, especially after the exotic pet issues we had recently.”

He was referring to the increasing number of exotic animals being purchased, and/or smuggled, into the Gulf Emirate. Earlier this year, a tiger was loose on the streets, leading to an outcry by both concerned citizens and animal welfare activists. Times had to change.

Sartagna discovered there is a burgeoning group of animal lovers in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, pushing for greater welfare for animals.

“It was amazing to see that there were vegetarians and vegans here and that they were making life better for animals in any way they could,” he said, adding “even though I am not a vegetarian, I think it is important not to mistreat animals.”

The young American was likely pleased to hear about the Veterinary Services Section of Public Health Services Department at the Dubai city municipality, which recently held a seminar called “Animal care between legislation and practice,” in coordination with the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

At the seminar, a first for the city, the ministry of environment and water was keen on pushing the idea that animals should be treated with respect and care.

Mutasim al-Rusan told the audience that “mercy of Islam extends beyond human beings to all living creations of God.”

Appealing to religous sentiments is a positive step in creating an understanding among animal advocates. Rusan was a large success.

“Islam prohibits cruelty to animals. Fourteen hundred years ago, long before the modern animal rights movement began Islam required kindness to animals,” he said.

With animal welfare being pushed aside in favor of what many call “more pressing needs” the attendees at the seminar believe that both human and animal alike can benefit from a better society. Islam is a key component of creating that unity, added Rusan.

“Islam laid down compassionate slaughtering regulations. It insists that the manner of slaughter should be that which is least painful to the animal. Slaughtering instrument should not be sharpened in front of the animal. Islam also prohibits the slaughtering of one animal in front of another. Never, prior to Islam, had the world witnessed such concern for animals,” he said.

With local media largely taking a back seat to animal needs and care, Sartagna believes that only through local community efforts, and seminars like this, can Dubai begin to create a new part of what he says makes the city great.

“Dubai is a great place to live. It’s clean and we care about one another, but we have to care about the others, like the animals, who often don’t have a voice for the betterment of their lives,” he argued.


Calif animal welfare laws evolve, face challenge

FRESNO, Calif. (AP) — When the Humane Society of the United States released a disturbing video of a downer cow at a California slaughterhouse, it spurred an ongoing overhaul of the state’s animal welfare laws that reached the U.S. Supreme Court this past week.

Images of the struggling milker, prodded with a forklift to slaughter, awakened a collective consciousness and helped the animal welfare group record the state’s largest-ever margin of victory for Proposition 2, the landmark 2008 voter initiative that gives laying chickens more room in cages.

Since then, the California legislature has passed or altered 30 laws to improve the lives of animals — from sharks to dairy cattle, even animals hunted for sport. And it has banned the butchering of downer livestock — animals too sick or too weak to walk — a measure the justices seem inclined to overturn.

With a hand in nearly all of it is Jennifer Fearing, the animal group’s Harvard-educated California state director who guided Prop 2 to victory then asked to stay on. In three years since moving from Washington DC, she has channeled an election about chicken rights into a successful series of HSUS-directed policy changes that have made the Golden State a U.S. leader in animal welfare legislation.

"Of all the animal organizations, HSUS has the money and the political savvy to be problematic for my clients going forward," said Michael Boccadoro, a poultry industry lobbyist. "They are on another level. We are aware of it and are watching in terms of their actions."

Using plain-spokenness and quick wit, Fearing can charm political adversaries, who say they would rather work to find common ground than face a voter referendum with more dire consequences.

"I find Jennifer to be an incredibly honest, bright and well-spoken individual," said Judd Hanna, a former California Department of Fish and Game Commissioner who welcomed her this fall to sit with hunters on the board of the state’s anti-poaching reward group.

She got the attention of the fish and game department after securing $5,000 a year from HSUS to pay the veterinary bills of wardens’ anti-poaching dogs.

Fearing shares the group’s anti-poaching mission, Hanna said. But others did not welcome the move, which shook up the nine-member board of mostly hunters. All but two quit. Western Outdoor News called the appointment of an animal welfare lobbyist “a plot as insidious as anything you’ve ever seen.”

California Houndsmen for Conservation, a group that uses dogs equipped with radio collars to run down terrified prey, offered to replace and increase the HSUS donation to the anti-poacher fund if the group would return the money.

"When one understand what the stated purpose is of HSUS, it’s entirely contrary to one of the elements of Fish and Game’s mission statement, which is to provide hunting and fishing opportunities to California residents," said Josh Brones, president of the houndsmen. "Ultimately they want to end all hunting in the U.S. and beyond."

Hanna said the time has come for his group to stop being insular and to recognize that peoples’ attitudes are evolving in a state with 38 million people and just 275,000 of them licensed hunters.

"Jennifer shares the same anti-poaching views as the rest of the board," said Hanna, 70, a hunter. "I think she and people like her are going to be the future of the organization, and unethical hunters and poachers are going to be the demise of the hunter unless it gets curtailed."

Fearing also serves on a committee to develop a new strategic mission for DFG, which may include, among other things, dropping “Game” in the name and replacing it with “Wildlife,” a move that would signal not all animals in California’s forests should be viewed as hunting targets.

"I’ve been working to build bridges. I’m not some crazy Jihad terrorist," said Fearing, 40. "Let’s sit down and work constructively in the areas where we agree and make animals’ lives better in those areas."

In the Supreme Court last week, the justices heard an appeal from the National Meat Association, which seeks to block the 2009 state law that barred the butchering of downer cows. Critical questions about the law from the justices appeared to side with the meat industry’s position.

The notion that animal welfare activists know more about caring for livestock than do farmers galls Jill Benson, the fourth-generation owner of Modesto egg producer JS West. Since Prop 2 she has fought negative perceptions by taking a mobile chicken house on the road and placing a live cam in one of her massive egg barns newly outfitted with bigger cages.

"We as farmers have always cared for our animals, but we have not done a good job in communicating to the consumer how we do that," said West, who is critical of what she describes as HSUS scare tactics. "An animal activist group can spin it with deplorable video and tell a story that the consumer believes is common practice, when, in fact, it is one bad apple."

Environmental groups credit Fearing’s contacts and acumen for passage of legislation in September that banned the trade of shark fins for soup in a state that has a market second only to China. She tweets constantly and uses Facebook to goad supporters into pressuring their legislators. And she’s not beyond making a spectacle to get attention if it helps animals.

As the shark-fin bill languished on Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk and with powerful opposition to it, she turned to YouTube. Summoning to the Capitol a team of Corgis — like the one that accompanies the governor to work — she attached fake fins to their backs and ran them around the building as a “fin-tervention.” Brown signed the bill October 7, and sponsoring Assembly members Paul Fong and Jared Huffman participated in a series of long-distance thank-you photos on Fearing’s Facebook page.

"She has been able to bring people together and build bi-partisan support for animal issues," said Fong.

Since Prop 2, 26 legislators have formed an animal welfare caucus to promote meaningful changes, the first of its kind among statehouses. This year the legislature toughened financial penalties for rooster and dog fighting, prohibited the roadside sale of animals, and even updated language in laws to change “pound” to “animal shelter” and “destroy” to “euthanize,” all bills the HSUS sponsored.

Advocates for the agriculture industry declined to talk on the record about Fearing but they agree that she a smart and fair adversary. Since Prop 2, they said, they have polled the populace and come to understand that consumers want eggs, meat and poultry that are humanely raised — and grocers are demanding it.

"I feel we’re at another tipping point," Fearing said. "Bill Clinton is a vegan, so in some cases we’re riding the wave. But what feels different is the degree to which our traditional opponent is working with us instead of against us. And that’s the future. They want public opinion on their side."


Animal Rights Campaigners Win FOI Battle Against Newcastle University Monkey Experiments

Newcastle University will be forced to disclose licences governing its controversial experiments on primates after a tribunal ruled that they would not be exempt from freedom of information (FOI) requests.

The landmark decision by the information tribunal paves the way for other animal rights campaigners to challenge similar research universities to publicise details of their animal experiments.

The British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV) first submitted an FOI request to the University of Newcastle in June 2008 but it was refused. The campaigners then demanded Newcastle release Home Office licences, which the institution said allowed them to conduct experiments on monkeys.

The tribunal noted on Tuesday the “strong public interest in animal welfare and transparency and accountability” in relation to animal experiments. The court also rejected claims from the university that disclosing the information would endanger its staff or prejudice commercial interests.

According to the BUAV, one of Newcastle’s lead researchers had previously been refused permission to conduct similar primate experiments in Germany, as they were deemed “unethical”. The university’s current experiments have been discussed in three articles, but apparently do not identify any benefit for human health.

The BUAV have called the experiments “highly invasive” as they involve implanting electrodes into brains of macaques to record activity while repeatedly forcing them to undergo various tasks. The BUAV claim the monkeys were subjected to a “high level of distress” as they were forcibly restrained by the head and body.

The animals were also deprived water in order to motivate them to perform tasks, said the BUAV.

Michelle Thew, BUAV Chief Executive, said the organisation was “delighted” with the ruling.

"Once again the courts have dismissed Newcastle’s attempts to hide the truth about its animal experiments. For well over three years, Newcastle University has tried every which way to avoid providing us with information.

"These are highly controversial and invasive experiments carried out on monkeys at a public institution. The public has a right to know what is happening to these poor animals and why."

The university refuted the campaigning group’s claims that they will be forced to hand over the licences, saying the decision was yet to be finalised.

A spokesperson for the institution said: “The first tier tribunal has confirmed that the University should not release the full project licenses as requested by BUAV.”

Newcastle University added a separate Court of Appeal would rule on whether the licenses could be released at all and cited the Animal Scientific Procedures Act (ASPA), which say it is an offence to do so.

But a spokesperson for BUAV told the Huffington Post UK the statement was “misleading”.

"It is not the case that it would be a criminal offence under ASPA to release the licences. That is the very question which the Court of Appeal will be deciding.”

The animal rights organisation claims it is possible to carry out the same studies using non-invasive imaging machines and adds it is a “fundamental principle” of UK legislation that animals should not be used where non-animal methods can provide the desired information.

But Newcastle continued to defend its research, saying: “The University carries out a small amount of scientific work on primates where no alternative for the research exists and this is fully regulated by the Home Office.

"Indeed, Newcastle University is recognised as a national Centre for the ‘3Rs’ of animal research: reduction, replacement and refinement."

In its policy on the use of animals in research, the university states: “Newcastle University only uses animals in research programmes which are of the highest quality and where there are no alternatives.

"While new methods have enabled scientists and medical researchers to reduce work involving animals, some work must continue for further fundamental advances to be made."

But BUAV argues that “aside from the ethical issues and lack of benefit to human health”, the primates used in the experiments can be replaced with human volunteers.

"Hiding behind government regulation is not acceptable", a spokesperson from the organisation added.

Reports: Following Ace euthanization, Detroit officials to meet with animal rights activists

City officials will reportedly meet with animal rights activists Monday to discuss possible changes to the way Detroit handles the euthanization of stray pit bulls.

Nov. 12, the Detroit Free Press: “Local animal rights advocates say they are hoping the City of Detroit will change its policies on dealing with stray pit bulls after one was euthanized despite efforts by rescue groups to save the emaciated pooch.”

The dog in question, “Ace,” was euthanized Thursday despite public outcry and a reported restraining order from attorney Corbett O’Meara.

The pit bull wandered into an Ace Hardware store at McNichols and Cameron, where it was picked up by Detroit Animal Control officers.

State law requires the city to hold strays for four days before euthanizing dangerous dogs or transferring adoptable pets to the Michigan Humane Society. Animal control does not consider pit bulls adoptable, however, and standing policy calls for euthanasia after expiration of the waiting period.

More than 16,000 people joined the “Save Ace” group on Facebook, and several advocates attended a city council meeting earlier this week. 

The Facebook group has been collecting donations “to press the City of Detroit for reform in their animal control policies.”