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Michael Vick, Katrina Were Turning Points in Animal Welfare -Humane Leader

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Is it possible to deal on a daily basis with dog fighting, puppy mills, horse slaughter, baby seal clubbing, homeless pets, leghold-trapped wildlife, animal research, cockfighting and factory farming and still spread a message of hope and despair? Yes if you are Wayne Pacelle, the charismatic and indefatigable president of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS).

Pacelle chose to launch the sale of the paperback version of his bestseller, The Bond: Our Kinship with Animals, Our Call to Defend Them, at the Garden District Book Shop in metropolitan New Orleans on Tuesday because the city, "played such a remarkable role in defining the animal human bond," after Hurricane Katrina. The event, as the summer-hot city quieted day after the Final Four Men's Basketball Championship, was co-hosted by the Louisiana Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (LA-SPCA).

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Two days after the human story about Hurricane Katrina first hit, the related animal story began to develop, recounts Pacelle: evacuees who left their pets, thinking they would be back in two days and unable to reach them; residents who didn't evacuate but stayed with their pets and animal rescuers who rushed in to help animals even as more people fled.

With Pacelle were LA-SPCA's CEO Ana Zorrilla and the group's former director (during Katrina) Laura Maloney, now HSUS chief operating officer.

Hurricane Katrina, which struck New Orleans in 2005, did not just reveal atrocious lack of disaster preparedness for human evacuation and safety (especially for the poor, elderly, and infirm in hospitals and nursing homes) it also revealed atrocious lack of disaster preparedness for animal evacuation and safety. Pacelle described the evacuation of 200 Katrina dogs by airplane, thanks to Marilyn Pickens, and how well behaved the kenneled dogs were, "even in the middle aisles."

As often happens after crises and suffering in U.S history, reform and new laws grew out of the Katrina crisis, like inclusion of pets in evacuation plans, said Pacelle. New laws, targeted toward dog fighters and even spectators, also grew out of quarterback Michael Vick's conviction as well as dog fighting prevention programs for young people, said Pacelle.

Still, we can not "rescue our way" out of animal abuse or ignore animals whose suffering is out of the public eye which we are unwittingly "propping up," cautioned Pacelle, holding up a folded piece of paper to show the amount of "living space" allotted a contemporary egg laying hen. Farm animals cannot be rescued because they are property and encroaching laws even limit the right to photograph or document their conditions, said Pacelle. Instead of having "one bad day"-the day they are slaughtered-every day of factory farmed animals' lives is suffering, immobilized in crates and cages in farm "warehouses."

A fur garment we see in a store is removed from the 24 to 30 hours an animal actually writhed in a leghold trap to make it-and scientists do not even choose fur for warmth at locations like the North Pole but rather fabrics like Gortex, said Pacelle.

The primacy of the animal human bond has long been established and two-thirds of American households have animal members, observed Pacelle. "Pet" culture in fact debuted when the U.S lost its animal connections through urbanization just as humane laws surfaced when human effects on buffaloes and animals hunted into extinction became apparent. Since humans have complete control over whether animals live or die and how they live, it is not an issue of "animal rights" but "human responsibility," concluded the HSUS leader.

Martha Rosenberg is a columnist and cartoonist, who writes about public health Read more stories by Martha Rosenberg.

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