By: Aimee Douglass
As a kid growing up in the suburbs of Pittsburgh, I loved going to the Pittsburgh Zoo. I would choose the zoo over Kennywood any day, because as far as I was concerned, it was much more interesting. As the zoo added new animals and exhibits, I would beg to go, and sometimes my begging would work, although no one else in my family seemed as enthusiastic as me. As an adult, I still loved going to the zoo, and would drag my husband there at least once a year.
When I went vegan 8 ½ years ago, I struggled with the idea of zoos. On the one hand, they professed to be helping in conservation efforts, but on the other hand they were taking animals out of their natural habitat in order to entertain humans, when sanctuaries and wildlife preserves could provide the same, and sometimes even better interaction with animals rather than seeing them caged in unnatural habitats designed to mimic their real homes. It made me angry. However, I eventually came to peace with the idea that zoos would exist, and they would not disappear overnight, and comforted myself with the knowledge that most were good caretakers with genuine interest in animals, and the bad zoos would be found and shut down in no time. The Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium fell into the category of good caretakers because I would constantly hear about the accreditations and the measures they took to keep their animals healthy and safe, and even contribute to conservation efforts. Unfortunately, that is no longer the case when it comes to the Pittsburgh Zoo. Since 2015, the zoo has been in violation of its lease agreement with the City of Pittsburgh, as it has not maintained the level of accreditation as outlined in the lease for the zoo itself.
Accreditation is not something to take lightly, as the measures outlined create uniform requirements and provisions for the overall protection of all animals. There are two major accrediting bodies that apply to zoos (other than the USDA) and they vary greatly in their requirements as noted below and listed in the following table.
Accreditation by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) ensures that highly qualified, knowledgeable, and experienced professionals provide care for animals in a safe and secure environment at modern facilities. In contrast, the deceptively named Zoological Association of America (ZAA) has weak standards, accredits poorly run roadside zoos and private menageries, and promotes the private ownership of exotic pets and the commercialization of wildlife. The comparison chart below illustrates a few of the many important differences between the two organizations. (Humane Society of the United States)
The Pittsburgh Zoo was a long-time member of the AZA until it decided to drop the accreditation for the ZAA after issues with the care of the elephants in the zoo were pointed out. The Pittsburgh Zoo has consistently been called out for its subpar treatment of elephants, even as recently as January of this year.
The zoo has also had multiple violations noted by the USDA regarding their treatment of elephants in both the zoo and its affiliated elephant breeding facility located in Somerset, PA. In addition, as the City of Pittsburgh discussed and eventually passed the Bullhook Ban in 2017, the zoo sent multiple employees to City Council hearings to stress the fact that the ban would endanger their lives – statements that were not backed up by the prevalent research into the use of bullhooks, and the zoo claims they do not use the bullhooks on their elephants, which would clearly violate the ordinance. Rather than correct the issues regarding their elephants, the zoo decided to adhere to the lesser provisions of the ZAA instead.
As noted, the ZAA accreditation designation is in violation of the zoo’s lease with the City. On top of this, Barbara Baker, the zoo’s President and CEO, is also the head of ZAA, which presents a clear conflict of interest - how can one trust her decisions when she is the head of the agency accrediting her own organization?
If you are a resident of the City of Pittsburgh and care about having a zoo that adheres to the most basic and beneficial standards of care, please reach out to City Council and urge members to ensure that the zoo adheres to the agreement of its lease with the City. As a non-profit that benefits from the use of free water and sewage, services that residents pay for, the Pittsburgh Zoo should provide the best care to the animals in its facilities, and citizens should demand as such.
By: Hannah Lewis
Before the COVID-19 pandemic really took hold here in the U.S., most of us will remember a zero waste movement gaining traction. The city of Pittsburgh has a plan to move towards a zero-waste standard. Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Garden has racked up accolades for its green and zero waste practices. Humane Action Pittsburgh has participated in this global movement with our “No Plastic Please” campaign.
The link between the reduction in single-use plastics and animal welfare may not be immediately clear to some, but HAP’s goal is to reduce harm to marine life impacted by plastic waste while also protecting drinking water and the environment for humans.
I can’t speak for everyone, but, for me, reducing my reliance on plastic has become a bit of an afterthought in the era of COVID-19. Since March, stores have discouraged or banned the use of reusable shopping bags, the bulk bins I used to frequent are emptied out or taped up, takeout is far more prevalent, and, sadly, other concerns have been taking up more and more of my mental and emotional real estate.
I even delayed participation in the Pittsburgh Summer 10K Litter Challenge, but, in July, when my partner and I moved from a suburban apartment in Allison Park to our new home in Pittsburgh’s Observatory Hill neighborhood, I started to notice how much litter accumulated on the sidewalks off busy roads near us. I finally downloaded Litterati, an app that allows users to document litter. At times, the aggregated data can be used to push for corporate or even policy-based changes.
After downloading the app, I noticed something. Even when I didn’t have my phone with me, I became more aware of the litter I saw--and I was surprised how prevalent it was!
The most startling part of the experience occurred when I was hiking in Ohiopyle State Park over Labor Day Weekend. Fern Cliff Trail is a favorite of mine because you can hear and see the incredible Youghiogheny River and Ohiopyle’s signature waterfall while hiking in a unique forested area.
As we hiked, I kept a sharp eye out, and I noticed almost immediately a number of plastics, including small items like bottle caps and cigarette butts, as well as larger items like water bottles and, fittingly for Summer of 2020, a broken surgical mask.
Photo courtesy of Claire Kmetz
I know that removing these items will have little impact on the overall health of the forest and the unique ecosystem on the peninsula. But the power of a tool like Litterati became salient to me as I realized that documenting this litter could, in fact, provide the data to hold companies responsible for the amount of litter their products contain, to generate or nurture the political willpower needed to enforce rules against litter, and to generally make people aware of the danger not only to unique and vulnerable animal species, but also more broadly to these cherished local landmarks and recreational attractions.
The Pittsburgh Summer 10K Litter Challenge ended on September 8th, but please continue to join me in the looking out for litter with Litterati, and really seeing the litter around us--not just in our beloved natural sanctuaries, but also right in our own backyard where it can impact the lives of the birds, deer, and other animals we are fortunate enough to share our neighborhoods with.
And, if you haven’t already, check out HAP’s “No Plastic Please” page to find out even more ways you can protect marine life from the encroachment of plastics.
Betta fish are known as an easy to care for “starter” fish, needing nothing more than a bowl to swim around in and their own company. Unfortunately, there is a plethora of misconceptions surrounding them, and this is much to the detriment of these beautiful creatures. In reality, fish are sentient beings, and studies have shown them to have remarkable skills such as the ability to use tools and recognize human faces. However, bettas are forced to live in cramped, artificial conditions where they don’t thrive, and, sadly enough, the cruelty begins long before their final destination.
Betta fish suffer from the time they are born in the pet trade. Normally, they live in shallow, warm pools of water in Southeast Asia. On breeding farms, however, betta fish are kept in small bottles or bags with hardly enough water to cover their bodies. From there, the fish are shipped to their destinations around the world, often without food. Since this journey can take several days, it is common practice for tranquilizers to be added to their water so that they won’t eat their own tails. Given the brutal conditions on these trips, many of the bettas die in the process. The following video shows how betta fish make it to Petco:
Once the betta fish reach pet stores, they are put into tiny, individual cups and stocked on the store shelves. It is not uncommon to find these fish dead or injured on the shelves, having never received veterinary care. This unnecessary suffering wouldn’t be permitted with other pets, so why do we allow it with fish?
Their lives do not usually tend to improve much once they have found homes, as pet store associates are taught that bettas must live in solitary confinement; in reality, only males fight with other males. Bettas require clean aquariums with gallons of well-heated water, a good filtration system, and enrichment such as caves and plants. Bettas kept as pets rarely get this kind of treatment. Some flower shops even sell bettas in a vase with a plant. These types of conditions aren’t conducive to allowing betta fish to live a happy, healthy life.
This August 1, on Respect for Fish Day, let’s vow to treat betta fish better. If you own or are thinking of buying a betta fish, do your research to give your fish the environment it needs to thrive. You can also educate your local pet store about the cruel betta fish pet trade and encourage the store to stop selling them. If you would like to join HAP’s Fish Feel campaign, please apply here. Together, we can make the world a kinder place for fish.
This week’s blog post is brought to us by Kayla Seifert, the Director of the Compassionate Living campaign for HAP, which seeks to improve the health and safety of animals and human alike by promoting plant-based events. Kayla is also working on the Fish Feel campaign, and since today is Respect for Fish Day, this post could not come at a better time!
By: Aimee Douglass
Over the last 10 – 15 years, states have rushed to put into place so called “Ag-Gag” laws. These laws are meant to limit or altogether eliminate whistleblower and undercover activities, particularly within agricultural facilities. These laws are meant to keep the public in the dark about how the animals in these facilities are treated, and not show common incidents such as as abuse, neglect, disease, and injury. Humane laws have been enacted across the United States to ensure a level of care for animals in these industries, and undercover investigators for organizations such as Mercy for Animals, PETA, and the Humane Society have been helpful in exposing those who do not adhere to the standards. Ag-Gag laws, however, seek to criminalize these activities, leaving the oversight of factory farms to the factory farm industry itself, clearly not an unbiased body.
While these laws are meant to protect factory farms and other animal agricultural industries, many of the laws that are being developed make it a criminal offense to document not only agricultural facilities, but any private business, such as hospitals, senior care homes, veteran facilities, and schools. Two such laws recently passed in North Carolina and Arkansas. The North Carolina law included language that stated that individuals who exposed improper actions and attempted to share it with the public would be subject to criminal investigations, as well as lawsuits and damages. Thankfully, this law was ruled unconstitutional as it violated First Amendment rights, and was struck down by the district court.
Recently, our own Pittsburgh Post-Gazette published an opinion piece about Ag-Gag. (It should be noted that H.B. 683, which was introduced in the PA legislature in February, 2013, was eventually killed in committee due to its overreaching definitions of what constituted “interfering” with agricultural operations.) In support of this editorial, HAP member Walter Orange wrote a letter that appeared in the Post-Gazette on July 6th. We urge you to check it out here.
Truly it is not in the government’s best interest to support a policy based on cruelty to animals, nor is it in its best interest to remove First Amendment protection from one group of citizens. Freedom of expression has always been, and should always remain, an absolute, and a right afforded to everyone.
The Animal Legal Defense Fund has a section devoted entirely to Ag-Gag and the actions they have been taking to defeat these bills as they are passed.
By: Aimee Douglass
Within Pennsylvania, hunting is a way of life. Every year, millions of residents trek into the woods to find that perfect specimen to bring home. Hunting is so ingrained in the lifeblood of Pennsylvania, many schools close for the first day of deer season.
There is a sinister side to this, however, and unfortunately, it is very prevalent in Pennsylvania (see map below), and Pennsylvania has more of these events than any other state. Wildlife Killing Contests (WKCs) are events where participants are encouraged to shoot and kill as many of a specific animal, usually an apex predator like coyotes or bobcats, and the one who kills the most wins. Participants use calling devices meant to mimic the sounds of an animal in distress to bring the animals close to them, and then shoot. During this frenzy to bag as many animals as possible, pregnant females and babies are targeted, as they can potentially be worth more points. At the end of the contest, the corpses of the animals are left to rot within a field, while the participants celebrate their efforts at an after party.
WKCs violate the tenet of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation that states wildlife may only be killed for legitimate, non-frivolous purposes. This cruel activity is not hunting, and has been decried by conservationists as well as hunting organizations who feel WKCs go against the rules of hunting. Proponents of WKCs claims that this helps with wildlife management, but there are no studies that show that to be true. In fact, it may lead to a higher population of the species after the temporary reduction. WKCs create instability and chaos in coyote family structure, which allows more coyotes to reproduce, encourages the immigration of outside coyotes seeking the space and resources and can increase conflicts with livestock.
Arizona, California, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Colorado, and Vermont have outlawed WKCs and several other states are considering similar action. Humane Action Pittsburgh (HAP) would like Pennsylvania to be next. We are teaming up with Animal Wellness Action to bring awareness of this barbaric activity to all citizens and help put a stop to this cruelty. For more about what you can do and how you can get involved, please reach out to someone at HAP, whether it be through commenting on this blog, or through our Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/humaneactionpgh/.
By: Aimee Douglass
As the world slows down to help flatten the curve in order to order to halt the spread of the Coronavirus, which leads to the disease known as COVID-19, analysts and talking heads are positing how the world moves forward once this crisis is over. One thing that is not being talked about, on a large scale, however, is how likely it is that another pandemic can happen. How, you ask? By another zoonotic transmission between the animals that humans consume. While it is one thing to point the finger at the wet markets in China that have been identified of the source of this outbreak, realizing that another outbreak could be brewing is not unrealistic.
There has been a long history of viruses borne from human interactions with animals, including, H1N1, swine flu, and now COVID-19. Similarly, outbreaks of salmonella and e. coli have been tied to consumption of animal products in the past. In the Chinese city of Wuhan, the origin of this latest version of the Coronavirus has been linked to so-called “wet markets,” where all manners of wild animals are bought and sold for human consumption.
Wet markets also exist in the United States to a smaller degree, but perhaps the greatest equivalent to the wet markets in China are large industrial-sized livestock farming operations, sometimes referred to as Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations or CAFOs. These massive operations are breeding grounds for disease and cross-contamination, where animals are housed practically on top of each other. Certainly, this is problematic for the animals, but it also presents problems for humans, as detailed by the Sierra Club:
It’s clear that it is time for us to reconsider our treatment of and commodification of animals, if not only for the protection of the animals, but also for the protection of the human race and the elimination of future pandemics that could lead to more quarantine-like situations and the collapse of economic and health systems across the world.
By: Aimee Douglass
Across social media, it seems everyone is posting about viewing the documentary “The Tiger King” on Netflix. Released at almost the same time as orders from governors across the US to stay inside and limit or eliminate interactions with other people, the documentary was advantaged by a captive audience. It has generated numerous memes and jokes about the individuals shown, and a dissection of the craziness of their lives.
One thing that has been missing, however, at least until recently, is a discussion about the treatment of the animals by people such as Joe Exotic and others portrayed. Instead of discussing the antics of Joe, et. al., we should be discussing how these animals were treated, all in the name of providing “entertainment” to those of patronized the establishments.
Currently, the majority of animals housed within Joe’s facilities are now in sanctuaries, where they are free to live their lives. If not exactly in their own natural habitats, at least they are free from further harm at the hands of the owners of the roadside zoos where they once resided.
Private ownership of big cats is a unique issue within the US. There are no federal laws that prohibit owning a big cat. Currently, thirty-two states have some form of ban in place, while fourteen states allow ownership with proper licensure. Four states have no laws on the books at all. Organizations such as Big Cat Rescue, run by Carole Baskin, one of the individuals featured in the series, are pushing for all-encompassing legislation that will stem the tide of the problem of big cat ownership by individuals who most likely do not have the animals’ best interests at heart.
Introduced in the House on 02/26/2019, the Big Cat Public Safety Act, H.R. 1380, seeks to revise requirements governing the trade of big cats (i.e., species of lion, tiger, leopard, cheetah, jaguar, or cougar or any hybrid of such species). Specifically, it revises restrictions on the possession and exhibition of big cats, including to restrict direct contact between the public and big cats.
The bill currently has 229 sponsors, who are listed here. If your representative is listed, please reach out to thank them for their support of this bill. If your representative is not listed, please call and leave a polite message urging them to support this important legislation.
By: Aimee Douglass
"We’ve got to leave behind the whole set of archaic, inhumane practices where we treat wildlife as potluck or potion, as textiles or trinkets in the making. The COVID-19 crisis is an air-siren to be heard and heeded throughout the world, including for the protection of wildlife" -Wayne Pacelle
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect daily life across the world, it has given rise to another issue around the use of animals for human gain. For years, bear bile, collected from bears held in containment, has been touted as a cure for many ailments. It is no different in the wake of COVID-19, as some tout bear bile as a potential cure for the symptoms of this latest version of the Coronavirus. This unproven, anecdotal-based determination has festered and spread, and given rise to an uptick in current bear bile collection practices not only in countries like China, but also within the United States.
Because of this, Senate Bill 3196, The Bear Protection Act of 2020, was introduced in Congress on January 15, 2020. The purpose of the bill is “[t]o conserve global bear populations by prohibiting the importation, exportation, and interstate trade of bear viscera and items, products, or substances containing, or labeled or advertised as containing, bear viscera, and for other purposes.” The Act covers many different species of bears, some of which have been decimated by these practices both here in the US and abroad. The purpose of the act includes the prohibition of interstate and international trade in bear products, the encouragement of efforts across all lines to eliminate the trade, and ensuring that Federal legislation is enacted to contain and/or eliminate the trade of products containing bear viscera. This Act is just a drop in the bucket in stemming the tide of the use of animals in so-called holistic cures that have thus far shown no proven efficacy regarding the claims made.
What can you do?
While Congress is on leave during this time, convening virtually for legislation regarding the response to the pandemic, you can still contact your member of Congress to voice your support for the Act, and even encourage him or her to sign on to co-sponsor the bill. You can also educate your friends and family about this Act and ask them to take action as well.
By: Aimee Douglass
You’ve seen the images on social media – the beaches covered with garbage, the marine life swimming through obstacle courses made up of garbage. The problem is universal, and a human one, in that it is one that humans can come together and solve.
Single-use plastic (SUP) makes up a great deal of the garbage that is finding its way into our waterways, disrupting the ecology of our oceans, rivers, and lakes, leading to the diminished health of these systems and the creatures that call them home.
But what if there was something simple you could do, as an individual, to combat this? What if it was as easy as saying three simple words: “no plastic please.”
No Plastic Please is a HUMANE ACTION Pittsburgh campaign aimed at reducing SUP to protect our communities' health, wildlife, and environment.
We suggest starting with refusing the following targeted items when you are dining out, shopping, or attending an event:
While this can sometimes seem like an impossible task, there are so many alternatives available to items listed above, and all it requires is a little planning:
You can make your own SUP-free kit and carry it with you so you’re ready for any situation. Learn more here.
Little actions can add up to big results. By thinking about your single-use plastic consumption and making a conscious decision to use alternatives, you are contributing to a solution to a growing problem on the planet and making a difference!
If you want to make a difference, please go to the No Plastic Please page and take the Pledge.
We need you! Volunteer to join our campaign to help spread the word about “No Plastic Please” and work toward a goal of making it a movement among individuals, organizations, and legislatures. For more information on volunteering opportunities you can be a part of, email HUMANE ACTION Pittsburgh at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By: Aimee Douglass
Welcome to the new Humane Action Pittsburgh (HAP) blog! It’s a new year, and we have set some great goals to develop humane laws for animals in the city, county, and state, with the hopes of rolling these policies out to the nation.
To that end, this space will serve as a place to update all visitors to the website about actions that they can take to help us reach our goals, things they can do in their everyday lives to help end animal suffering, and provide resources for next steps as individuals want to become more involved in the work that HAP does.
We want YOU to be involved, and there are many ways in which you can do that. The first step would be to come to a HAP meeting, which occur every six weeks. The next meeting is scheduled for 1/14 at the East Liberty Humane Animal Rescue organization. Come and introduce yourself, and decide at which level you would like to get involved. We have multiple campaigns, from No Plastic Please, to Compassionate Living, to Ending Puppy Mill misery. As you can imagine, these are campaigns that involve lofty goals and that is why we need your help! We need passionate people who want to get involved in a way that is comfortable and realistic for them. We are not a protest organization, but prefer to work with legislators and experts within the humane world to develop and implement policies and laws that help end the suffering of animals within our city, county, and state. Join us and share your talents in a way that is fulfilling and successful.
Finally, we want our team to feel like they are part of the community. This blog will reflect that. If you are reading this and there is a subject you would like to see covered more in-depth within this space, please send a suggestion to email@example.com If you have any questions about getting involved with HAP, what HAP is working on, or steps you can take to help our efforts, please feel free to email us!
Aimee Douglass is the Lead Blogger for the HAP blog, as well as HAP's Strategic Analyst, and has been a volunteer with HAP since 2018. She is an active participant in the Compassionate Living campaign and in 2019 tabled at her first event for HAP. Aimee works in the healthcare industry and has a bachelors degree in Creative Writing from the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown and a masters degree in Communications with a health care focus from Southern New Hampshire University. She lives in Penn Hills with her husband and their three dogs.