Battle lines drawn as HSUS sets up shop

Madison – While the Humane Society of the United States has been
active in Wisconsin in the past, the organization now appears
poised to take a more aggressive role in advocating for strong
animal rights legislation in the state.

HSUS appointed Alyson Bodai as its new state director in 2008
(currently working from her home) and recently registered as a
lobbying organization with the Government Accountability Board.

Dog-breeding operations and animal fighting were the main
targets at its first Humane Lobby Day at the Capitol on March 31.
Bodai reports more than 70 people from across the state came to
Madison for the event. HSUS claims about 210,000 members statewide,
she said.

According to Bodai, the lobbying effort sought to upgrade the
charges against spectators at animal fights from a misdemeanor to a
felony and to shut down dog-breeding operations, which HSUS
officials refer to as “puppy mills.”

A “shady industry” is the way Bodai describes the dog-breeding
businesses. “The standard of care is deplorable. Animals spend
their entire lives in cages that are often filthy,” she said.

A consortium of 15 sportsmen’s groups, including the U.S.
Sportsmen’s Alliance, Wisconsin Trappers Association, Wisconsin
Hunters Rights Coalition, and the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation,
has written a letter of concern to members of the state Legislature
(see Letters to the Editor on Page 2).

The letter, dated March 25, refers to the HSUS as a “radical
animal rights group.” The letter asserts the group plans to “erode
bit by bit our hunting heritage” with active projects to ban
trapping, pheasant hunting, bear hunting, and hunting with

The letter notes that HSUS opposes rodeos, animal research,
greyhound racing, circus animals, pet stores, livestock farming
techniques, and fish farming.

The group’s message is clear: “Please help us defend our hunting
and outdoor heritage in Wisconsin from HSUS and other radical
animal rights groups.”

While the lobby day activities focused on animal fighting and
dog breeders, 15 groups representing state farming interests
decided to be proactive in their opposition to HSUS’s lobbying
efforts at the Capitol.

“We’ve seen their strategies in other states,” said Casey
Langan, Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation public relations director.
Langan said his group did not know the specific issues in advance,
but noted that HSUS actions elsewhere have seriously undermined
livestock practices.

Proposition 2 in California, passed in November 2008, bans
certain types of confinement facilities. “It will eventually
dismantle the poultry industry in that state,” Langan asserts.

Wisconsin must brace itself for similar efforts, farm experts
fear. Ferron Havens, president and chief executive officer of the
Wisconsin Agribusiness Council, appeals for a more rational
approach to the matter.

An agriscience teacher at Verona High School for 21 years,
Havens notes that farmers spend vast amounts of time and money
making sure their animals are comfortable. “They know a comfortable
animal is a productive animal.”

Farming groups sent a letter to the Legislature on March 23
outlining their concerns. The letter notes that livestock
production makes up nearly two-thirds of the agriculture industry’s
$51 billion impact on the state’s economy.

“Wisconsin is home to tens of thousands of farms where animals
are treated humanely,” the letter states. “Therefore, it is our
hope that you will actively oppose the misguided message that will
likely be delivered to your offices.”

“Some of these organizations are not looking at the big
picture,” Havens said. “They don’t understand the impact on food
and fiber production.”

Breeders of sporting dogs see their activities coming under
scrutiny as well. Recent legislation introduced in Texas mandates
the sterilization of every dog over six months of age. In Oregon,
sporting dog breeders are fighting a HSUS effort to limit the
number of “intact” dogs one individual can possess.

Every AKC club in the state has testified against it, according
to clumber spaniel breeder Darrell Reeves, of Oakland, Ore. He
believes the effort will fail, but expresses concern about some
sort of compromise legislation. “It allows the camel’s head in the
tent,” he contends.

HSUS has been especially critical of trapping operations
involving the use of what they refer to as leg-hold traps –
trappers refer to them as foot-hold traps. HSUS has succeeded in
imposing a ban on the traps in a number of states, including

Chris Bezio, of Pulaski, is the Wisconsin Trappers Association
representative to the National Trappers Association. He defends the
use of foot-hold traps as safe and humane. “Pretty much any animal
caught in the trap can be released unharmed,” he said.

Bezio claims limiting trapping operations has resulted in some
harmful consequences. Beavers are creating a problem in
Massachusetts, Bezio said, where diseases like giardia are
threatening water quality.

According to Bezio, WTA has been actively involved in the
creation of “Best Management Practices” for trapping activities.
“It’s an encyclopedia on how to go about trapping,” he said.

A trapper education course is a requirement to obtain a license
to trap in Wisconsin. “We want them to know what they’re doing,”
Bezio said. “The rule book for trapping is as big as the fishing
regs,” he added.

Both the farm and sportsmen’s groups make clear they do not
believe HSUS is directly affiliated with local humane societies.
“By hiding behind the name of ‘humane society’ they try to assume
the goodwill of our neighborhood pet shelter,” the farm group

However, Bodai said her group offers training to local shelters
in the investigation of activities such as animal fighting. The
group also offers grants to local humane societies, she said,
including a recent contribution to the Washington County Humane
Society to help with its spaying and neutering program.

Headquartered in Washington D.C., HSUS and its Fund for Animals
affiliate have an annual budget of more than $130 million and claim
a nationwide membership of 10 million.

HSUS has demonstrated a strong willingness to take court action
to block the management decisions of various government agencies.
According to an April 7 press release from the Wisconsin Wildlife
Federation, HSUS has gone to court for the third time in an attempt
to reverse the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision to delist
the timber wolf from the federal Threatened and Endangered Species

“What is truly ironic is that the misguided actions of (HSUS) do
not protect wolves,” said Ralph Fritsch, WWF Wildlife Committee
chair. “Because the over-goal population of wolves in the state,
there has been significant depredation by wolves on cattle and
other domestic animals, leading to 45 depredating wolves being
killed in the state last year.”

The HSUS legislative and legal agenda is anchored by13 full-time
attorneys, augmented by about 1,000 volunteer lawyers.

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