There was a time when animal welfare issues were considered by politicians to be fringe, if they were considered at all.  Over time, many animal welfare issues began to be taken up by elected officials, although they were often addressed by the liberal/environmentalist/hippie end of the electoral spectrum.  But more recently, animal welfare policy has ceased to be a partisan issue at all.  No longer would one only expect liberal democrats to take animal welfare seriously.  Increasingly politicians on both sides of the aisle are taking animal welfare issues seriously, judging them on their merits, and taking into account the expectations by growing numbers of their constituents for action on important animal welfare issues.

Animal welfare efforts have become so mainstream and acceptable and the goals sought by its supporters so reasonable that political party is not nearly the factor it once was.  As a former Democratic Committeeman I used to appreciate that often (not always, but often) you could count on the Democrat to be on the right side of these issues.  However, as an animal welfare advocate and professional in the field, I now recognize that in my region of the country Democrats and Republicans are equally likely to have exceptionally good –or bad- records.  Party affiliation matters less, if at all, on many issues.

In the Congressional district of my organization the incumbent Republican, Jim Gerlach, has a very good voting record based on the Humane Society Legislative Fund (no relation to HSBC) criteria, better than a majority of Pennsylvania Democratics.   His Democratic opponent, Manan Trivedi, has openly expressed his support for the animal welfare issues and there is every reason to believe he would also have a very good voting record.  Both are actively engaged in making that support known to my organization’s donors and volunteers, and to voters. 

This did not happen by accident.  It happened because increasingly large numbers of citizens have been telling their candidates that they expect good animal welfare policy, that they don’t consider themselves to be “fringe”, and they began to de-couple animal welfare from other third-rail issues.  In other words, every animal issue was not a fight between us and them- farmers, hunters, gun owners, constitutional conservatives, veterinarians, breeders, or whatever the “them” of the hour was.  It could be about the issue itself and how we presented it. 

And once it was about the issue, you could find reasonable people on both sides of the political aisle with a continuum of reasonable positions from which real movement- and real votes- could be garnered.  Once the zealous red paint hurling fringe ceased to be the perceived face of animal welfare and that face was replaced by you and me and our neighbors and Oprah, who had very real concerns about the welfare of animals and very reasonably questioned the political inactivity we saw, our politicians were forced to engage us.  Once the passionate animal welfare supporters on our side began to see that a positive, civil dialogue was effective, we began to build partnerships with politicians.  And once the politicians saw that there was a real political benefit to be had by being on the right side of animal welfare, and maybe a real penalty from being on the wrong side, they have increasingly sought to demonstrate to us that they care about animal welfare. 

Somewhere along the way supporting animal welfare issues became about as expected as supporting the troops, wearing a flag pin, and kissing babies.  And this is exactly what we should want and have been seeking all along, no matter what political party we support.

As voters, we need to ensure every candidate for elected office includes an animal welfare policy platform statement as a matter of course, regardless of party affiliation.  As professionals in animal welfare, we need to ensure that the appeals we make to animal lovers and animal welfare advocates span party lines or political molds and that we are encouraging polite, effective interaction with elected officials.  And when they don’t live up to our new expectations, voters need to get behind candidates who will, either in general elections or in party primaries.  Democrat or Republican, I think we can all take away one lesson from the Tea Party folks: Politicians, ignore your constituents at your peril.

It is time for those of us who think good animal welfare policy is good for our nation to forcefully make the same case and politely demand that all candidates of any party, in every election, take these issues as seriously as we do.  If they won’t, we need to find candidates who will.

Fingers crossed we can do it without having to wear silly hats.


1. My family and I attend a Lutheran Church.  Please do not direct hate mail to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America.

2. I would like to extend my apologies to Tom Cruise and his family.  Oh, and to Governor Ed Rendell.

3.  Don’t worry; it will make sense in a minute.

As much as I campaign for animal welfare, I have also increasingly campaigned for a civil dialogue among those who represent the efforts to promote the welfare of animals in our society.  I have repeatedly made the case that one of the biggest obstacles facing us in our efforts to pass good animal welfare laws are the rude, self-righteous, and hyper-emotional on our side of the aisle.  These people, using their depth of belief as a shield to excuse themselves and their behavior, indulge in viciousness and vulgarities against those they see as opposing them.

And their vitriol is not reserved solely for the opposition.  Sometimes their greatest abuse is directed at those on their own side who choose different methods, have different beliefs or agendas, or are not as extreme in their demands.  But I recently saw an escalation of personal attack which I found stunning, despite my years of seeing what those who “love animals so much” are capable of.

I recently received an e-newsletter from an animal welfare group who shares my profound disgust for the pigeon shoots which blight my organization’s home county, Berks, and Pennsylvania, the sole state in the Union still allowing them.  This group’s rhetoric has always been pretty strong, pointed and sarcastic.  But it has generally been reserved for those committing the horrible acts they (and I) oppose.  I may promote civil discourse, but skewering a local pigeon shooting attorney who was caught on tape calling a female protester a name so indecent it seems impolite to make so much as an oblique description of it here will generally get a pass, even from me.

But this email caught my attention because it referred to Governor Ed Rendell as “sleaze”.  And that made me cringe.  Governor Rendell has done more in Pennsylvania to promote improvements for animals, and dogs in commercial kennels specifically, than any we’ve had.  True, you can argue with many, many things in the legislation he signed, the way his Bureau of Dog Law Enforcement has acted and enforced our laws, the lack of forceful leadership he has shown on issues such as the pigeon shoot ban, and others.  But overall, he’s done a great deal and politics is about more than what I want so my job is help convince him to do more.  “Sleaze” seemed harsh to me, even directed at a thick skinned politician.

However, when I read on to the next article about rodeos, another issue this group feels strongly about but is not a practical issue for me or my organization since we have no rodeos, I felt like I had been punched in the stomach.

The article was about Tom Cruise being linked to a movie about a rodeo star.  This group is appalled he or anyone would make a film glorifying a rodeo star.  No problem, I get that; it is one of their issues.  They went on to mention he had been filmed at a rodeo with his children and made a mocking comment about his parenting.  As a father of three young daughters, I found that offensive.  There was no need to even bring his kids into the discussion, especially for a cheap shot.  The group then encouraged readers to write Cruise and express their displeasure.  Fine, they don’t like rodeos, he’s making a movie about them, I get it.   

What I found so stunning, so horrible, so profoundly un-American, was the next request.  They wanted readers to write to Tom Cruise’s church, the Church of Scientology International, to tell them that “he and his church will carry the stain of it for the rest of his career and beyond”. 

This injection of Cruise’s faith into their perfectly valid attack on the treatment of rodeo animals is not only insensitive, it comes at a time when our entire nation appears to be grappling with whether an entire faith can be painted with the “stain” of the actions of some of its supposed adherents.  Even President Bush, faced with the height of our Nation’s 9/11 convulsions, made a strong and clear statement that the actions of Muslim terrorists who killed 3,000 of our citizens could not be assigned to Islam. 

Yet this animal group will fault an entire congregation with the choice of motion picture jobs made by an actor who belongs to it?

Interestingly, they do not ask us to write the churches or synagogues of others they mention in their piece.  Does Cruise’s choice of church merit some special exception?

This type of attack must be called what it is: intolerance and bigotry.  It is wrong, it has nothing to do with animal welfare and it is fascistic.  It flies in the face of the very tenets that founded the United States and no justification can be made based on their strength of conviction or love of animals. 

One of the cases I make for ending pigeon shoots in Pennsylvania is that they invite the participation of individuals and groups from out of our communities, out of our state, who have agendas and axes to grind at our expense.  Do you remember who arrived to defend the pigeon shoots in Hegins, Pennsylvania, years ago?  The Ku Klux Klan.  Now we have an out-of-state group who rightly opposes the shoots but brings their hate speech with them as a consequence.  I want neither and I hope that we can send them all packing by passing a pigeon shoot ban now.

But until we do, I feel the need to apologize to Governor Rendell for the comments made by those who claim to share my views.  I feel the need to abjectly apologize for the slurs directed at Tom Cruise, his family and his church.

And to those who have a problem with that, do me a favor and send the hate mail to me.  I’m not sure my church will know what you are talking about.


By Guest Blogger, W. Scott Yoder, HSBC Board of Directors

As a child in Berks County with the last name of Yoder I was introduced to all the “traditions” and “heritage’ items at a very young age: Shoo-fly Pie, Pig Stomach, Schnitz und Knepp, AP Cake, Montgomery Pie, Milk Tarts, Liver Pudding, Hunting, Local Gun Club Memberships, and Pigeon Shoots; the list is endless. Of the before mentioned items the one I’d really like to focus on today is Pigeon Shoots.

I seemed to get dragged along to every Pigeon Shoot that was held in many more venues than today (and in those days, there was public notice given instead of the modern “secret society” notification that must currently exist), by family members and friends’ fathers who, by the way, were all trying very hard to teach me how to become an ethical hunter. My job was to stand out in “center field” and shoot at “sleepers”, aptly named because these were the poor pigeons that were half-dead, flying low at a slow rate of speed, and easy targets for a kid of  9 or 10 years old.
Before leaving to go home, we would always go closer to the “traps” and watch the men shoot the pigeons from behind. This was where this Pigeon Shooting Tradition started to go south for me in a hurry. I watched the birds for the next round being carried in, packed like sardines, in wooden crates. I watched the young kids or “wringers”, whose job it was to pick up the dead or wounded birds inside the ring and dispatch them by wringing their necks before throwing them into a 55-gallon barrel, before being dumped into a dumpster, while the wounded birds lying outside of the ring were just left there to flop around and die of their own accord.
All of a sudden the mixed message thing started to go off in my very young brain about what my father and grandfather were trying to teach me about becoming an ethical hunter: dispatching of harvested game quickly and then preparing it, before doing anything else, for the table. Dumping these dead birds into a dumpster ran antithetically to what my young mind was trying to learn. The short trip home gave me more time to “process” all this and I spent many sleepless nights mulling this over in my brain. The final straw for me was going for Sunday breakfast at one of these clubs, the day after the shoot, and watching the wounded birds from the day before hopping pathetically around the parking lot, and looking up to the roof of the Gun Club, where many half-dead birds were perched waiting for certain death, or if they were lucky, to get picked off by a passing hawk. 
As a hunter, gun owner, and animal advocate, I realize that it’s time for Pennsylvania’s National Embarrassment of protecting and defending these distasteful, depressing, horrific spectacles, to come to an end and come to an end NOW! The NRA, and I’m a member, has even backed off the “Pigeon Shoot Question” because they don’t want to be associated, in my opinion, with a certain loser and I believe even they’re beginning to realize that banning  pigeon shoots has nothing to do with 2nd amendment rights. As a Sportsman and gun owner the least of my fears is the banning of pigeon shoots, but that’s another topic for another day.
I’m going to continue eating Schnitz und Knepp and Shoo-Fly Pies, as long as my doctor allows it, but the one tradition that needs to get thrown into the dumpster is the protection of pigeon shoots by our law-makers in Harrisburg. I’d encourage everyone who feels as I do to contact their representatives and encourage them to support and bring this Pigeon Shoot and Tethered Turkey Shoot Ban Bill up for a vote as soon as possible so we can all sleep a little better at night and carry on with traditions that still work in the 21st Century.