Category Archives: Uncategorized

Shelter Stories

The man is clearly very sad to be leaving his dog at the shelter.  He is also clearly deaf.  His hearing friend and companion is comforting him with hand signs and hugs as he says goodbye to the little female long-haired Chihuahua, whose big, frightened eyes never leave his face.

His companion is filling out paperwork, explaining to the shelter personnel that they are moving, somewhere the dog is not welcome.  The dog is terrified, trying to hide behind the legs of both men, enclosed in an eerie circle of caged, staring shelter cats and their flat, yellow-eyed welcome.  The leash encloses legs like a hungry snake.

The deaf man catches the dog’s attention, leans down, and carefully makes a very clear signal several times with his hands.  The dog stares at him uncomprehendingly, but with every line of her body desperate to know what he wants.  Signal.  Signal.  Signal.  The dog vibrates with urgency.  What does he want??!?

She can’t obey him.  She doesn’t understand him.  He stops signaling — her desperation to understand him has at least stopped her getting underfoot.

His companion finishes the paperwork.  They lift the dog and hand her to a shelter worker, who gives her a sympathetic squeeze as she trembles.  The men start for the door, then the deaf man abruptly turns and gesticulates, mixed gesture-and-speech.  “She doesn’t….”

The shelter worker tries, but her look mirrors the dog’s.  “I’m sorry?”

Paper, a pen, a practiced search.  In big, careful letters, he writes: SHE DOESNT LIKE BISKTS on a post-it note.  He draws a little cartoon bone beneath: she does not like dog biscuits.  The shelter worker nods solemnly, points at the bone and shakes her head.  No biscuits.

Fox To Guard Hen House, Salmonella at 11

Back when I was in high school, the state in which I was living at the time was having difficulty getting a sufficiently large percentage of students to pass their standardized tests.  Their solution to this problem, of course, was to dumb down the tests, to make it easier for badly educated children to pass them.  It solved the problem (kids aren’t passing the exams) without really solving the problem (the kids are not well educated enough to pass the exams).

The USDA seems to be adopting a similar strategy in their poultry inspection program.  For reasons which have absolutely nothing whatever to do with consumer safety (they claim they are “modernizing an outdated system” but mostly, the move will allow them to eliminate about 800 jobs, and will allow the plants to chew through 70% more birds by speeding the disassembly lines up even more), the Agriculture Department’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) wants to allow individual poultry plants to provide their own inspectors rather than use inspectors supplied and trained (and paid) by the government.  (This appears to be the original policy document, which goes into detail about the policy and is even more hair-raising than the New York Times article.)

Apparently, they’ve been trying this program in pilot plants, with the results you’d expect — the “inspectors” are being placed at the end of the line where they can’t see what’s going on, and the increased speed of the lines (up to 200 birds per minute, from the current 140) makes it even less likely that defects will be spotted.  (200 birds a minute is more than three birds per second.  How much detail — mold, disease, defects — can you see if you’re looking at three birds per second?)

To the above point, I’d like to add that the main humane issue in the processing of poultry (and other animals) is the unbelievably immense number of birds being slaughtered — this results in chickens going through part of the slaughter process conscious, among other horrifying things (workers losing fingers; consumers contracting salmonella).  Even assuming multiple lines, how do you humanely slaughter three chickens per second?  How do you “oversee” such a process?  Apparently the USDA has decided to “overlook” it instead.

Increasing the speed of the lines by 70% and reducing the effectiveness of oversight does not sound like an idea with the best interests of either the birds or the consumers at heart.  No wonder the poultry industry has “applauded the Agriculture Department decision.”

(Bonus: check out the photo in that article, of “chickens in an egg farm”.  How many hens are crammed into that tiny space?  At least they’re not debeaked….)

Keeping Animal Abuse Private

A model-aircraft hobbyist recently made an accidental discovery while flying his model airplane, equipped with camera, over the Columbia Packing Company, a Dallas, Texas meatpacking plant: a river of suspiciously red effluence flowing from behind the plant, pouring into the Trinity River.  According to the article, based on the information provided by the hobbyist, “a local investigator was dispatched within 20 minutes, and onside within another 20”, and shortly thereafter the EPA, TCEQ, and Texas Parks and Wildlife executed a search warrant on the plant, finding “a pipe not connected to a waste water system“, apparently deliberately.

The scary part here is the immediate defense brought up (not necessarily by the plant itself, but by people in the comments section of several pages announcing the discovery).  The argument is that the hobbyist was invading the plant’s privacy by taking photographs from his plane.

Where does the right to privacy end?  Is it okay to dump biological agents (e.g., pig blood) into waterways as long as you’re not caught?  Do people who are committing crimes have reasonable expectation of privacy while doing so?  This is one of those questions where I simply do not have the legal background to form an answer.  It’s a complicated mess.  It’s cropped up before, and we’re still arguing about it.

This sort of thing affects the ability of the general public to report problems of all kinds — not just environmental damage but also animal cruelty.  Photographs are some of the best evidence in these cases, and are vital to construction of an effective prosecution.  Making it difficult for photographs or other recorded evidence to be admitted in court is a primary retaliatory response from organizations and individuals caught red-handed by that evidence.  Generally, those interested in recording documentation in order to report issues are instructed to take photographs from a public road so they can avoid having the evidence dismissed amid counter-charges of trespassing.  Well, somewhere above the level of your house or building, the area becomes “public access” again.  How high does a plane need to be flying before it’s out of your curtilage (owned area or property)?  Is Google Maps (which, notably, takes its “street view” photos from the public road, and its aerial photos from satellites) invading our privacy?  By the way, here’s Google’s aerial picture of the packing plant (also, notably, capturing a Very Red River).

It’s kind of important that we answer questions like these, partly because more people are getting access to the kind of technology which lets you fly camera-enabled model planes, but also because companies are using this “privacy” defense to attempt to pass laws preventing people from photographically documenting issues.