Animals Suffer for Our Entertainment

While filming an episode of “Gunsmoke” in 1968, there was a scene in which a dog was supposed to jump up and steal a sandwich from an actor’s hand. I was in the scene, and try as he might, the poor dog couldn’t get the stunt right. Time is money in the entertainment business, and the scene was taking a lot of time. Finally, the dog’s trainer hit the dog to make him “pay attention.” I was standing less than ten feet away. If I’d been an adult, I would have taken the dog and walked off the set, but I was only nine and couldn’t say anything. But I have these photos, taken on set as I witnessed an innocent animal being abused, to remind me of how I felt. It wasn’t the first time I’d seen an animal abused on a set, and it wouldn’t be the last.

When animals are used for entertainment, they suffer—and the film and TV industries are no exception. Often torn away from their mothers as infants and subjected to lives of punishment and deprivation, animals used in movie and television productions have no control over their lives. They’re treated like props, often forced to perform confusing tricks on cue until they’re considered too old, too sick, or simply no longer profitable.

You’ve probably heard of American Humane, the organization which monitors the use of animals on film sets. They don’t do a very good job. First, there are only enough AH inspectors to monitor about one-third of film sets. Their priorities are also in question. The Los Angeles Times reported, in 2001, that the American Humane Film Unit “has been slow to criticize cases of animal mistreatment, yet quick to defend the big-budget studios it is supposed to police,” and that an examination of American Humane “also raises questions about the association’s effectiveness.” The article cites numerous cases of animals injured during filming which the American Humane overlooked. In 2013, The Hollywood Reporter ran a story which implicated American Humane in turning a blind eye to and underreporting incidents of animal abuse on television and movie sets. For example, during the filming of “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” 27 animals died. Nevertheless, the movie received a “no animals were harmed” disclaimer. During the filming of the movie “Life of Pi,” the tiger “King” nearly drowned in a pool, yet this incident was not reported outside of the American Humane organization.

At off-set animal training compounds, living conditions are typically dismal, and abusive training techniques, including food deprivation, are commonly used to ensure that animals will perform on set in the fewest takes possible. Animals used in movies and on TV are trapped in the recurring role of “victim.”

Using wild animals such as bears, snakes, big cats, monkeys, wolves, and elephants for entertainment is inherently cruel, and there is never a situation in which it’s acceptable to use them in a movie or on a TV show. No amount of training can ever completely override their natural instincts. In nature, most animals do everything that they can to avoid humans, but those used by Hollywood trainers are forced into close proximity with their captors and are also deprived of their families, their freedom, and everything else that’s natural and important to them.

While they may never get the life that they deserve in their natural habitat, wild animals used for movies and on TV shows can have the next best thing. Reputable sanctuaries across the country can offer them expert veterinary care, room to explore, seclusion, and freedom from the stress of transport and the chaos of film and TV sets. It’s the responsibility of Hollywood’s trainers to stop exploiting these animals and to relinquish them to reputable sanctuaries where they can have some semblance of a natural life. Filmmakers, too, have the responsibility never to use wild animals in their productions.

Domestic animals such as cats, dogs, horses, chickens, and cows have needs that are different from those of wild animals but are no safer from the deprivation, cruelty, and dangers of the movie and TV industries. Horses, for example, are historically among the animals most commonly injured and killed when used for movies and TV shows.

An investigation into one of Hollywood’s most prominent animal suppliers documented that pigs were suffering without adequate veterinary care, cats were virtually starved for days, and dogs were kept outdoors in barren concrete kennels without bedding, even though temperatures dropped into the low 40s at night. A law enforcement raid on another company that supplied animals for Netflix, Disney+, AMC, and USA productions, found more than a dozen dogs in kennels stacked on top of one another in a garage.

In the movie business, cash is king—and animals’ well-being will always be compromised as long as profit margins and production deadlines rule the day. The living conditions and preproduction training methods that animals endure are often unregulated and unsupervised by the industry, which is why there is increasing demand for filmmakers to use computer-generated imagery or animatronics or, if the circumstances are right, cast their own companions, as Bradley Cooper did when he recruited his own dog for the new version of “A Star Is Born.” Filmmakers should always avoid commercial animal suppliers.

Fortunately, viewers are learning to see animals as individuals—not props—and filmmakers are taking note. Movies such as “The Lion King” and “The Jungle Book” brought Simba, Rafiki, Baloo, and Shere Khan to life without forcing a single animal to perform. Shows like “The Walking Dead” and “The Umbrella Academy” have incorporated stunningly realistic CGI of wild-animal characters who were at the center of the story arcs. CGI, animatronics, and other types of technology are paving the way for an enlightened approach to depicting animals in cinema—one in which nobody is whipped, caged, starved, or abandoned.

While some filmmakers and TV producers understand that animals aren’t ours to abuse for entertainment, many still need to be persuaded—and that’s where viewers come in. By avoiding shows and movies that use animals, the public can send a powerful message to Hollywood that profits won’t come without principles and that we expect them to keep animals out of their projects. I encourage compassionate viewers to take the fight to the industry and post their disapproval about the use of animals in a production on the social media pages of the director, the network, and the production company.

Fireworks Are No Fun for Animals

I hate fireworks, I really do. Fireworks frighten and kill pets and wild animals. More dogs go missing on July 4 than on any other day of the year; many never make it home alive. Please don’t “celebrate” this holiday or any other by causing pain, fear, and death, and protect your companion animals from being frightened by the thoughtless “celebrations” of others.

Peace to ALL the animals with whom we share this planet.



Permanent Weight Control the Vegan Way

Many people believe that to lose weight they have to go on a low-calorie diet. That often means starving oneself until the diet is no longer tolerable. Then the weight goes right back on—and then some. Happily, there is a much better way. It is easy and offers many other health benefits, too.

No More Diets

The first thing to realize is that changing eating habits must be more than a short-term means to an end. Changing eating habits is the cornerstone of permanent weight control. There is no way to “lose 20 pounds in two short weeks” and make it last. Very-low-calorie diets cause two major problems: they lower one’s metabolic rate, making it harder to slim down, and they lead to bingeing.

Fat Versus Complex Carbohydrates

The old myth was that pasta, bread, potatoes, and rice are fattening. Not true. In fact, carbohydrate-rich foods are perfect for permanent weight control. Carbohydrates contain less than half the calories of fat, which means that replacing fatty foods with complex carbohydrates automatically cuts calories. But calories are only part of the story. A recent study in China found that, on the average, Chinese people eat 20% more calories than Americans, but they are also slimmer. Part of this is due to the sedentary American lifestyle, but there is more to it than exercise alone. Earlier studies have shown that obese people do not consume more calories than non-obese people—in many cases, they consume less.

The body treats carbohydrates differently than fat calories. The difference comes with how the body stores the energy of different food types. It is very inefficient for the body to store the energy of carbohydrates as body fat—it burns 23% of the calories of the carbohydrate—but fat is converted easily into body fat. Only 3% of the calories in fat are burned in the process of conversion and storage. It is the type of food, not so much the quantity, that affects body fat the most.


Although protein and carbohydrates have almost the same number of calories per gram, foods that are high in protein—particularly animal products—are usually high in fat, too. Even “lean” cuts of meat have much more fat than a healthy body needs. And animal products always lack fiber. Fiber helps make foods more satisfying without adding many calories, and it is only found in foods from plants.

Still worried about protein? These foods are packed with protein: quinoa (8 grams per cup), chia (4 grams per 2 tablespoons), spinach (5 grams per one cup), seitan (36 grams per half cup), hummus (7 grams per 2 tablespoons), nuts (5 to 7 grams per ¼ cup serving), tofu (10 grams per ½ cup serving), edamame (17 grams per cup), chickpeas (6 grams per half cup serving), lentils: (18 grams per one cup serving).









Exercise is essential. Aerobic exercise speeds up the breakdown of fat in one’s body and makes sure that muscle is not lost. Toning exercises and weight-lifting help firm muscles and increase muscle mass. A combination of exercises will help one achieve a slimmer, firmer, healthier body in a shorter period of time. The trick is to find activities that one enjoys and that can fit one’s lifestyle. Walking is popular because it requires no special equipment and can be done anywhere at anytime.


The best weight control program is a high-complex-carbohydrate, low-fat, vegan diet complemented by regular exercise. This is the best choice for a healthier, longer, happier life.

What’s Wrong with Dairy Products (Besides Killing Cows)

Many Americans, including some vegetarians, still consume large amounts of dairy products; vegans, of course, do not consume any animal products, including dairy. The dairy industry is dependent upon the abuse and slaughter of cows and calves, but if that alone isn’t enough to make you switch to almond or oat milk, here are eight more reasons to eliminate dairy products from your diet.

1. Osteoporosis

Milk is touted for preventing osteoporosis, yet clinical research shows otherwise. The Harvard Nurses’ Health Study, which followed more than 75,000 women for 12 years, showed no protective effect of increased milk consumption on fracture risk. In fact, increased intake of calcium from dairy products was associated with a higher fracture risk. An Australian study showed the same results. Additionally, other studies have also found no protective effect of dairy calcium on bone. You can decrease your risk of osteoporosis by reducing sodium and animal protein intake in the diet, increasing intake of fruits and vegetables, exercising, and ensuring adequate calcium intake from plant foods such as leafy green vegetables and beans, as well as calcium-fortified products such as breakfast cereals and juices.

2. Cardiovascular Disease

Dairy products—including cheese, ice cream, milk, butter, and yogurt—contribute significant amounts of cholesterol and fat to the diet. Diets high in fat and saturated fat can increase the risk of several chronic diseases including cardiovascular disease. A low-fat vegetarian diet that eliminates dairy products, in combination with exercise, smoking cessation, and stress management, can not only prevent heart disease, but may also reverse it. Non-fat dairy products are available, however, they pose other health risks as noted below.

3. Cancer

Several cancers, such as ovarian cancer, have been linked to the consumption of dairy products. The milk sugar lactose is broken down in the body into another sugar, galactose. In turn, galactose is broken down further by enzymes. According to a study by Daniel Cramer, M.D., and his colleagues at Harvard, when dairy product consumption exceeds the enzymes’ capacity to break down galactose, it can build up in the blood and may affect a woman’s ovaries. Some women have particularly low levels of these enzymes, and when they consume dairy products on a regular basis, their risk of ovarian cancer can be triple that of other women.

Breast and prostate cancers have also been linked to consumption of dairy products, presumably related, at least in part, to increases in a compound called insulin-like growth factor (IGF-I). IGF-I is found in cow’s milk and has been shown to occur in increased levels in the blood by individuals consuming dairy products on a regular basis. Other nutrients that increase IGF-I are also found in cow’s milk. A recent study showed that men who had the highest levels of IGF-I had more than four times the risk of prostate cancer compared with those who had the lowest levels.

4. Diabetes

Insulin-dependent diabetes (Type I or childhood-onset) is linked to consumption of dairy products. Epidemiological studies of various countries show a strong correlation between the use of dairy products and the incidence of insulin-dependent diabetes. Researchers in 1992 found that a specific dairy protein sparks an auto-immune reaction, which is believed to be what destroys the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas.

5. Lactose Intolerance

Lactose intolerance is common among many populations, affecting approximately 95 percent of Asian Americans, 74 percent of Native Americans, 70 percent of African Americans, 53 percent of Mexican Americans, and 15 percent of Caucasians. Symptoms, which include gastrointestinal distress, diarrhea, and flatulence, occur because these individuals do not have the enzymes that digest the milk sugar lactose. Additionally, along with unwanted symptoms, milk-drinkers are also putting themselves at risk for development of other chronic diseases and ailments.

6. Vitamin D Toxicity

Consumption of milk may not provide a consistent and reliable source of vitamin D in the diet. Samplings of milk have found significant variation in vitamin D content, with some samplings having had as much as 500 times the indicated level, while others had little or none at all. Too much vitamin D can be toxic and may result in excess calcium levels in the blood and urine, increased aluminum absorption in the body, and calcium deposits in soft tissue.

7. Contaminants

Synthetic hormones such as recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH) are commonly used in dairy cows to increase the production of milk. Because the cows are producing quantities of milk nature never intended, the end result is mastitis, or inflammation of the mammary glands. The treatment requires the use of antibiotics, and traces of these and hormones have been found in samples of milk and other dairy products. Pesticides and other drugs are also frequent contaminants of dairy products.

8. Health Concerns of Infants and Children

Milk proteins, milk sugar, fat, and saturated fat in dairy products may pose health risks for children and lead to the development of chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, and formation of athersclerotic plaques that can lead to heart disease.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that infants below one year of age not be given whole cow’s milk, as iron deficiency is more likely on a dairy-rich diet. Cow’s milk products are very low in iron. If they become a major part of one’s diet, iron deficiency is more likely. Colic is an additional concern with milk consumption. One out of every five babies suffers from colic. Pediatricians learned long ago that cows’ milk was often the reason. We now know that breastfeeding mothers can have colicky babies if the mothers are consuming cow’s milk. The cows’ antibodies can pass through the mother’s bloodstream into her breast milk and to the baby. Additionally, food allergies appear to be common results of milk consumption, particularly in children. A recent study also linked cow’s milk consumption to chronic constipation in children. Researchers suggest that milk consumption resulted in perianal sores and severe pain on defecation, leading to constipation.

Milk and dairy products are not necessary in the diet and can, in fact, be harmful to your health. Consume a healthful diet of grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes, and fortified foods including cereals and juices. These nutrient-dense foods can help you meet your calcium, potassium, riboflavin, and vitamin D requirements with ease—and without the health risks.

The Three Biggest Killers in America

Medical research is at a crossroads. The major killer diseases are not solved by old experimental techniques. In order to win against the major diseases, researchers are looking to new technologies, and doctors are forced to learn new approaches.

Heart Disease, the Number One Killer

The greatest advance in the understanding of heart disease was the discovery that it can be virtually eliminated by controlling three factors—cholesterol, smoking, and blood pressure. This extraordinary advance came from sophisticated studies of human patients.

Over the past four decades, in Framingham, Massachusetts, thousands of individuals in two generations have been carefully studied to see which factors are responsible for heart disease. The Framingham Heart Study showed that if one’s cholesterol level stays below 150, a heart attack is extremely unlikely. Every 1 percent increase in cholesterol leads to approximately a 2 percent increase in risk. Other studies, such as the Lipid Research Clinic’s Trial and the Multiple Risk Factor Intervention Trial, have also demonstrated the importance of controlling cholesterol levels.

Dean Ornish, M.D., of the University of California at San Francisco, has shown that if people who have advanced heart disease adopt a vegan diet, stop smoking, reduce stress, and engage in mild daily exercise, the plaques in their arteries will actually start to disappear.

Coronary artery bypasses and heart transplants, while helpful for some patients, have not matched the potency of dietary and other lifestyle measures. Bypasses and transplants develop aggressive atherosclerosis unless strict dietary steps are taken. Clearly, medicine’s best strategy is to institute such steps while the patient is still healthy. More research is needed: what we need are human behavioral studies on how to help people change long-standing smoking and dietary habits. Economic and political studies on how to shift farm production away from tobacco and livestock and toward grains, legumes, vegetables, and fruits are also essential.

Cancer, the Number Two Killer

Almost 50 years after President Nixon declared the new, aggressive “War on Cancer,” cancer death rates continue to climb.

A standard technique in the search for new anticancer drugs has been to give test substances to laboratory mice, a technique that had yielded no results relevant to humans while consuming millions of dollars and killing more than one million animals each year.

A new method developed by Michael Boyd, Robert Shoemaker, and others at the National Cancer Institute tests potential drugs on actual human tumor cells. In an automated system, the effectiveness of a substance in killing cancer cells is checked and entered into a computer. Potential drugs which have been overlooked by the pointless mouse screening system may be found to work in the new human cell screen.

Instead of struggling—and often failing—to cure established cancer, a large body of data now shows that cancer can be prevented. The National Cancer Institute estimates that as much as 80 percent of cancer cases can be prevented.

Thirty percent of cancers are due to tobacco. Avoid smoking, and lung cancer becomes very unlikely. At least 35 percent of cancers are due to dietary factors.

The National Research Council has released a technical report, Diet, Nutrition, and Cancer, showing that diet was probably the greatest single factor in the epidemic of cancer. Since then, more evidence has implicated specific dietary factors in several types of cancer. Foods rich in fats and oils increase risk of cancer in organs related to digestion (e.g., colon, rectum) and organs that are sensitive to sex hormones (e.g., breast, prostate).

In addition, certain food constituents help protect against cancer. Dietary fiber, principally found in whole grain cereals and legumes, helps prevent cancer of the colon and rectum. It also appears to reduce risk of breast cancer, perhaps by lowering cholesterol and sex hormones. Several vitamins have shown anticancer activity: beta-carotene (the form of vitamin A found in dark green and yellow vegetables and fruits), vitamins C and E, and the mineral selenium may help prevent cancer.

Avoiding excessive exposure to sunlight is a critical step in the prevention of skin cancer. In addition, radon, a natural radioactive gas that seeps up from certain underground rocks into groundwater supplies, has been implicated in certain cancers. Improved ventilation stops radon from building up in enclosed areas.

Prevention is the light at the end of the tunnel for those looking for a way to reduce the cancer epidemic. By avoiding factors that lead to cancer and including foods that strengthen us against the disease, we can, to a great extent, control our own risk.

Stroke, the Number Three Killer

In stroke, a part of the brain is killed, leading to paralysis, loss of sensory function, and often death. Clinical and epidemiologic studies have shown how stroke is caused and how it can be prevented. It has become clear that the same factors that lead to heart disease—high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol levels, and smoking—can also cause stroke. Controlling these factors can prevent stroke. To reduce the incidence of stroke, more aggressive measures to help people change dietary and smoking behavior must be developed.



Marine Parks: a Billion-Dollar Industry Built on Misery

In the summer of 1969, I sat for an interview on a local Los Angeles TV talk show called “Let’s Talk About.” The host of the show was Keith Walker, a sometime actor and screenwriter who would go on to write the story and screenplay for “Free Willy,” a 1993 movie about an orca who escapes from a marine park with the help of a boy. In the movie, most of Willy’s scenes were played by an animatronic orca, but some were played by a real orca named Keiko. Keiko was found by movie scouts at a run-down park in Mexico, where he lived in a tank only one foot longer than he was. The publicity from Keiko’s role in the movie led to an effort to free him back into the wild. It took until 2002, but Keiko was finally released into his native waters off Iceland. Sadly, overweight and in ill health from his years in captivity, he died one year later.

Keiko was not alone in his suffering. Aquariums and marine mammal theme parks like SeWorld in San Diego, Orlando, and San Antonio, and Miami’s Sequarium have long been a part of a billion-dollar industry built on misery. For intelligent, social animals, captivity in a marine park is a life sentence of loneliness, boredom, forced labor, and anguish.

Tilikum, a star attraction at SeaWorld Orlando, died in a concrete prison 33 years after he was taken away from his family in the cold waters off Iceland. For Lolita, torn away from her family in Washington’s Puget Sound when she was just a baby, this summer will mark a half a century in the same tank at the Miami Seaquarium. An orca named Kiska, abducted from her family as a baby, has been swimming in endless circles in a cramped tank in Canada’s MarineLand in Niagara Falls for 40 years. The most famous orca of all, Shamu, was captured after her mother was harpooned and killed and she refused to leave her mother’s body. Shamu was only nine years old when she died of septicemia from unhealthy living conditions at SeaWorld San Diego.

Frequently housed with incompatible tankmates, dolphins, whales, and other marine mammals are often drugged in order to manage stress-induced aggressive behavior and relieve the monotony of swimming in endless circles. They break their teeth chewing on the metal bars and concrete sides of their tanks and are forced to perform ridiculous and unnatural tricks for tourists in exchange for food—all in the name of “entertainment.”

While wild female orcas can live to be more than 100 years old, orcas at SeaWorld often die by the time they reach their teens and rarely approach even the average life expectancy of wild orcas. More than 40 orcas have died at SeaWorld from causes such as bacterial infections and fractured skulls. More than 300 other dolphins and whales along with approximately 400 pinnipeds (seals, sea lions, and walruses) have also died at the parks.

“Touch tanks” as well as “swim with dolphins” and “paint with dolphins” programs allow the public to pet, kiss, paint with, or even ride these animals. Such programs invade the animals’ already diminished worlds and are intrusive, stressful, and even dangerous for them, as well as being risky for human participants.

Animals in “petting pools” are frequently exposed to foreign bacteria and other pathogens, and they can become anxious, frustrated, aggressive, and even neurotic as a result of being confined to shallow tanks and exposed to constant interaction with humans. Members of the public have been injured at SeaWorld’s dolphin-petting pools.

Even programs that enable people to swim with dolphins in nature can be invasive. Boats and swimmers may chase, harass, and scare them, interfering with their natural feeding, resting, migrating, and playing behavior. Dolphins may be smart and sociable animals, but they don’t want to swim with you any more than you want a strange family to show up at your house for supper and hang around all evening.

Captive marine mammals have some federal protections in the U.S., but enforcement is lax. There are simply too many animal exhibitors for the limited number of U.S. Department of Agriculture inspectors – as of February 2020, there were only 104 inspectors for 12,851 facilities. Even when exhibitors are cited for violating the federal Animal Welfare Act, they are rarely assessed fines or meaningful penalties.

The world is moving away from keeping intelligent, sensitive cetaceans in captivity. In the U.S., the National Aquarium is building a seaside sanctuary – a safe ocean cove in which marine mammals can be released into a protected area of the sea to dive deep, feel the ocean currents, and finally live like they should, all while still receiving care, food, and veterinary support. Two whales have been moved from a marine park in China to a seaside sanctuary in Iceland, and The Whale Sanctuary Project just announced plans for a seaside sanctuary for rescued orcas and belugas in Nova Scotia, Canada.

Please don’t spend your money at marine parks and aquariums that keep ocean animals in captivity. Encourage them to create more space for rehabilitating (and releasing) injured wildlife by refusing to breed more animals. Pressure government officials not to subsidize these facilities with taxpayer money, and support legislation that prohibits the capture or restricts the display of marine mammals.

Please join me in urging SeaWorld and other marine parks to stop imprisoning animals and to relocate the orcas, bottlenose dolphins, and other animals to seaside sanctuaries, where they can thrive in the enrichment and diversity of the sea while still receiving the care that they require.

Peace to ALL the animals with whom we share this planet.

Under Cover of the Pandemic, The National Park Service Targets Baby Bears and Wolves

With the nation’s attention conveniently distracted by the pandemic, the National Park Service is slipping through rule changes that will allow hunters in Alaskan National Wildlife Refuges to kill baby animals and their mothers in their dens, reversing existing regulations and violating every standard of conservation, decency, and compassion. I am outraged, and you should be, too.

Under the new rules, hunters will be permitted to:

  • use bait to attract and kill brown bears in federally protected lands
  • use artificial light to enter dens and kill black bears, including females and their cubs, as they hibernate
  • shoot caribou while they are swimming
  • trap and kill wolves and their pups during denning season

Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) claims the new rules are a matter of “principle” and protecting states’ rights. “Principle” is not something normally associated with Sen. Sullivan or those who encourage killing living beings for fun and recreation. Killing for sport is an abomination and the slaughter of sleeping mothers and their young is as evil as it gets. It certainly has no place in our National Wildlife Refuges.

Former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke drafted the new rule before resigning in disgrace in 2018 in the face of no fewer than 17 federal ethics investigations, but the anti-animal, anti-environment federal administration pushed it through. Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Washington) has led more than 70 of her colleagues in Congress in demanding the rule be withdrawn.

“The proposed rule would roll back critical protections for America’s beloved, rare and iconic native carnivores, including brown bears, black bears and wolves on the approximately 20 million acres of national preserves in Alaska—land that belongs to all Americans,” wrote the lawmakers. “The rule would effectively endorse the state of Alaska’s efforts to use extreme practices to reduce bear and wolf populations in order to artificially inflate populations of prey species for sport hunting.”

Zinke’s successor, David Bernhardt, had the opportunity to halt the rule changes but chose instead to ignore common sense and opposition by members of Congress, scientists, and tens of thousands of Americans. Said Theresa Pierno, president of the National Parks Conservation Association, “Shooting hibernating mama and baby bears is not the conservation legacy that our national parks are meant to preserve and no way to treat or manage park wildlife.”

I urge everyone to contact their representatives in the Senate and House of Representatives NOW and express your outrage and opposition to the National Park Service rule changes. Preserving wildlife, especially baby animals and their mothers, should not be a matter of political ideology but one of basic morality. This is an urgent call to save lives and preserve what’s left of our national decency.

Peace to ALL the animals with whom we share this planet.

Living in Lockdown Is a Lifelong Thing for Zoo Animals

Lonely, bored, feeling disconnected from the world during the pandemic? Imagine living your whole life feeling that way. Zoo animals do.

Even the most well-intentioned zoos are nothing more than animal prisons. Captive animals are often prevented from doing most of the things that are natural and important to them, like running, roaming, flying, climbing, foraging, choosing a partner, and being with others of their own kind. Zoos teach people that it is acceptable to interfere with animals and keep them locked up in captivity, where they are bored, cramped, lonely, deprived of all control over their lives, and far from their natural homes.

Zoos vary in size and quality—from drive-through parks to small roadside menageries with concrete slabs and iron bars. Millions of people visit zoos annually, but most zoos operate at a loss and must find ways to cut costs or add gimmicks that will attract visitors. Precious funds that should be used to provide more humane conditions for animals are often squandered on cosmetic improvements—such as landscaping, refreshment stands, and gift shops—in order to draw visitors.

Ultimately, animals—and sometimes visitors—are the ones who pay the price. A gorilla named Jabari tried to escape from the Dallas Zoo by jumping over walls and moats and evading electrified wires, only to be fatally shot by police; a witness later reported that teenagers were taunting the animal with rocks prior to his escape. At the Virginia Zoo, ten prairie dogs died when their tunnel collapsed, a rhinoceros drowned in the moat of her exhibit, and a zebra lost her life when she bolted from a holding pen, struck a fence, and broke her neck. Gus, a polar bear living at the Central Park Zoo in New York, made international headlines when he exhibited signs of severe depression after losing his mate of more than 20 years. Gus died two years later of a thyroid tumor, but one could say he was already dying of a broken heart.

Most zoo enclosures are very small, and rather than promoting respect for or understanding of animals, signs often provide little more information than an animal’s species, diet, and natural range. Animals’ normal behavior is seldom discussed, much less observed, because their natural needs are rarely met. Birds’ wings may be clipped so that they cannot fly, aquatic animals often go without adequate water, and many animals who naturally live in large herds or family groups are kept alone or, at most, in pairs. Natural hunting and mating behaviors are virtually eliminated by regulated feeding and breeding regimens. Animals are closely confined, lack privacy, and have little opportunity for mental stimulation or physical exercise. These conditions often result in abnormal and self-destructive behavior, known as “zoochosis.” Zoo animals can often be seen pacing, walking in tight circles, swaying or rolling their heads, and showing other signs of psychological distress. This behavior is symptomatic of not just boredom but also profound despondency.

Zoos claim a mission of protecting species from extinction, but zoo officials usually favor exotic or popular animals—who draw crowds and publicity—rather than threatened or endangered local wildlife. The Chinese government, for example, “rents” pandas to zoos worldwide for fees of more than one million dollars per year, but there is some question whether the profits are being directed, as they claim, toward panda-conservation efforts. Most animals housed in zoos are not endangered, and those which are will likely never be released into their natural habitats. Endangered species will only be saved by preserving habitats and combating the reasons these animals are being killed by human hunters and poachers.

Zoos will also tell you they are places for research; however, the purpose of most zoos’ research is to find ways to breed and maintain more animals in captivity. It’s a corrupt and endless cycle.

With informative television programming, educational opportunities on the Internet, and the relative ease of travel, learning about or viewing animals in their natural habitats is possible no matter where you live or what your circumstances. The idea of keeping animals cruelly confined behind bars or plexi-glass for human entertainment is thoroughly obsolete.


Remembering Fred Willard, Friend of Animals

Comedian Fred Willard, who died on Friday, was a fellow guest on “The Woody Woodbury Show” the afternoon I made my talk show debut in 1967. Something else he and I had in common was that he was a longtime advocate for animal rights. Willard created and starred in many public service announcements on behalf of animals that entertain while educating, including these about the intelligence and feelings of animals as well as the importance of spaying and neutering and adopting animals from shelters.

Fish Have Feelings

Fish Don’t Get the Respect They Deserve

Animal Birth Control

Adopt, Don’t Buy

Farm Sanctuary

Peace to ALL the animals with whom we share this planet.

Tired of Isolation? For Billions of Animals, This Is Their Entire Existence

Shelter-in-place restrictions, closed businesses and public spaces, and reduced social interaction has found us confronting unfamiliar feelings of alienation and isolation. Many people are disoriented by the sense of being estranged from their own lives.

Weeks or months of isolation necessary to inhibit the spread of the COVID-19 virus can be uncomfortable, but we know this disruption in our lives is only temporary. Try to imagine, if you can, the depths of isolation our society routinely inflicts on so many of our fellow beings – the nonhuman animals we breed or capture for our exploitation. For the animals languishing on farms, in zoos, vivisection laboratories, aquariums, circuses, pet stores, breeding mills, kill shelters, alienation and loneliness is the very essence of their existence, and a permanent condition.

It is widely believed that COVID-19 jumped to humans via the animal flesh trade, which has led to a critical focus on wildlife and “wet” markets. Deservedly so, but we must not forget that factory farms and meat packing plants remain the largest sources of human zoonotic disease pandemics. A 2012 study mapping human diseases that come from animals found that “while zoonoses can be transmitted to people by either wild or domesticated animals, most human infections are acquired from the world’s 24 billion livestock, including pigs, poultry, cattle, goats, sheep and camels.”

The World Health Organization confirms that the greatest risk for zoonotic disease transmission occurs at the human-animal interface through direct or indirect human exposure to animals, their products (meat, milk, eggs, etc.) and/or their environments, while the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization notes that “seventy percent of the new diseases that have emerged in humans over recent decades are of animal origin and, in part, directly related to the human quest for more animal-sourced food.”

Just a decade ago, swine flu, an H1N1 influenza virus, jumped from farmed pigs to humans and infected nearly 61 million people in the U.S. alone, where it resulted in 12,469 deaths, according to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Worldwide, as many as 284,500 people were killed by the swine flu pandemic.

The infamous 1918 influenza pandemic was also caused by an H1N1 virus. Attributed to having developed from either a swine flu or avian flu virus on a pig or poultry farm (pre-dating factory farms, it should be noted), the pandemic killed an estimated 50 million people around the world.

All this is just the tip of the iceberg.

While pandemics are tragic, they are not inevitable. In the grand scheme of things, they are symptoms of a much deeper sickness with which we have infected not only ourselves, but whose toxic consequences can now be seen across the globe. Witness the burning of the Amazon rainforest to make room for ever more cattle ranching. See Australia, where the ceaseless bulldozing of koala habitat and the deliberate mass killing of kangaroos, both on behalf of the beef industry, kill far more of these animals every year than the recent wildfires. See, too, the unprecedented rates of species extinction resulting from habitat loss, whose number one driver is animal agriculture; the climate crisis to which meat and dairy production contribute more greenhouse gas emissions than all global transport combined, leading to devastating droughts, floods, fires, hurricanes, and other extreme weather events.

This sickness is not the scale of our killing but in the mentality that views animals not as fellow beings but as resources to be farmed and consumed. Humans have thrown out the order of nature and taken it upon themselves to decide where animals will live, if they may reproduce and how and when, if the children they bear will ever see their mothers, when or if they may be allowed to socialize with their own species. What, when, and how much they will eat, what mutilations they will be subjected to, and, to a great extent, when and how they will die.

What can it mean that, in a society obsessed with personal identity and freedom, we have erased the very concepts of identity, liberty, autonomy, and consent from entire populations of sentient individuals. We give little or no thought to the moral implications of the indignity and debasement we inflict on them for our own profit and pleasure. To degrade any individual, much less entire species, to the lifelong status of property, captive, and commodity, is the grossest devaluing of life, and the ultimate alienation.

Farmed animals are the innocent victims of our arrogant and ignorant species. They do not “live” as we know and value the word; they endure an existence. They are powerless, brought into the world by violation on an industrial scale for the sole purpose of gratifying human indulgence.

It doesn’t have to be this way. We can thrive without causing this devastating harm.

It is no coincidence that our systematic destruction of animal lives is also destroying our own. As I write this, U.S. slaughterhouses and meat processing plants have been identified as the largest hotspot for coronavirus infection in the country. Instead of shutting them down to stop the spread of this killer virus, an executive order is forcing them to stay open to supply our society’s fetish for flesh. Headlines fan the fears of “mass meat shortage” that threaten to starve us all. News flash: it won’t. There are more than enough things to eat that aren’t hacked off the corpses of animals.

Our culture is in a state of addiction. It is pathological. And it is wrecking our planet, which ought to be incidental to the immorality of force-breeding billions of sentient individuals into captivity, reproductive subjugation, and slaughter. Lives are not commodities; beings are not property.

Until we divest from this poisonous sense of entitlement, this blood-soaked stupor of violence, exploitation, and consumption, our species is doomed.

Peace to ALL the animals with whom we share this planet.