Connecticut Animal Welfare Groups Passionately Protect Animals
In his seminal 1923 work The Philosophy of Civilization, Albert Schweitzer wrote, “We must fight against the spirit of unconscious cruelty with which we treat the animals. Animals suffer as much as we do. True humanity does not allow us to impose such sufferings on them. Until we extend our circle of compassion to all living things, humanity will not find peace.” Roughly 80 years later, comedian Ricky Gervais said, “Dear intelligent people of the world, don’t get shampoo in your eyes. It really stings. There. Done. Now f--king stop torturing animals.” As time goes on, we, as “intelligent” people, still abandon our cats and dogs to the streets in harrowing numbers, hunt wild animals for sport and slaughter them inhumanely for food. Fortunately, there are many animal rights and animal welfare organizations in Connecticut working to secure our animals’ well-being.
Here are just a few.
Friends of Animals
Darien, (203) 656-1522 (friendsofanimals.org)
Established in New York in 1957 by Alice Herrington—and relocated to Darien in the 1980s under its current president, Priscilla Feral—the national organization Friends of Animals (FoA) initially had one goal in mind: to reduce the number of stray cats and dogs in the United States by offering low-cost spaying and neutering. It established a program whereby pet owners across the country could apply for and purchase a certificate (now $65), redeemable at a nationwide network of participating veterinarians. To date, FoA has issued 2.6 million of these certificates, which averages to nearly 35,000 procedures a year.
The organization has also led the charge in changing national attitudes about strays, robustly supporting the “no-kill” shelter movement that got underway in the 1990s, and endorsing the TNR, or trap-neuter-release approach for communities dealing with ever-expanding populations of feral cats (free-roaming strays abandoned by their owners, who have returned to a wild state—and the offspring of those cats). While the euthanization of shelter animals nationally is still carried out at an alarming rate—4 million a year, according to the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS)—those numbers appear to have declined dramatically of late in our state. According to the publication Animal People Online, Connecticut earned the commendable distinction of having the lowest shelter euthanization rate of all 50 states in 2012 (a total of 2,012 cats and dogs, or 0.6 per thousand, while the nationwide rate is 13.8 per thousand).
Over the years, as the FoA has acquired increasing competition from local grassroots organizations that also offer low-cost spaying and neutering—Connecticut has several, as well as a state government program offering discount vouchers to low-income households—its mission has expanded to include other national (and global) animal rights issues. It operates a wild-animal sanctuary in San Antonio, Texas, Primarily Primates, for abused animals caught up in the exotic pet trade and biomedical research.
In July, FoA joined with the endangered-species advocacy organization WildEarth Guardians in a suit against the National Marine Fisheries Service for “failure to grant Endangered Species Act protections to several imperiled marine species,” including the queen conch and whale shark. This summer, they also defended the rights of San Antonio’s carriage horses, calling for residents to speak out against a proposed regulation change that would permit drivers to work the horses in heat above 95 degrees with shorter rest periods than usual. (Soon thereafter, the city council passed an ordinance banning this proposal.) FoA has taken on animal-rights issues specific to Connecticut as well, one of its best-known actions being a lawsuit brought against United Illuminating in the 1990s over UI’s attempted eradication of monk parakeets (targeted for their inconvenient habit of building nests atop utility poles).
“We lost the lawsuit,” says Feral, “but there was such a community uproar that UI finally did stop killing the birds. That’s what I think animal advocacy work really is—it’s a form of community organizing.” Most recently, the group has been in the news for its opposition to the state’s proposed bear-hunt lottery bill.
Friends of Animals has been praised over the years for being one of the first organizations in the modern animal-rights movement to draw a distinction between “rights” and animal welfare. “The rights of wild animals are best respected by keeping our hands off of them,” Feral says. “The rights of these animals to simply live can be observed if we aren’t carving up all their habitats, poisoning or shooting them. But there’s also an animal-welfare standard in terms of providing animals that are dependent upon us with enrichment, decent housing, good health care and socialization, and a terrific diet. All the things that animal-rights proponents believe in are addressed by adhering to this standard.”
By all accounts, the Connecticut legislature’s spring 2013 session was a great one for animals. More bills were proposed and advanced on their behalf than in any previous session. Laws were passed that prohibit municipalities from enacting breed-specific dog ordinances, prohibit the tethering of dogs outside during extreme-weather advisories, and require that euthanasia of any domestic animal be performed only by a licensed veterinarian. (Known as “Buddy’s Law,” the last provision was instigated by a 2010 tragedy in which a German shepherd adopted from Westport Animal Control was shot to death the following day by his new owner.) Other measures included new funding to double the availability of low-cost spay/neuter vouchers to low-income families and to help develop training for counselors using therapy animals to treat traumatized children.
Thanks for many of these successes goes to Bloomfield’s Connecticut Votes for Animals (CVA), a 501(c)4 lobbying organization established in 2008. “We grew out of the animal-rescue community,” says president Amy Harrell. “We recognized that while the work rescue groups do is absolutely crucial, legislative advocacy could complement these efforts and make rescuers’ lives much easier. It’s another essential part of the animal-rights picture.” CVA employs a full-time lobbyist who knocks on legislators’ doors to get the votes, helps the organization frame and draft legislative proposals, and advises them on political strategy. “Up until now, our main goal has been to establish a firm presence at the state capitol as an organization that speaks for animals,” says Harrell. “But this is also about mobilizing the people of Connecticut to speak for animals as well, and convincing them to contact their own representatives. There are innumerable instances where we need to strengthen animal-rights laws. The more people who speak up, the better. People don’t have to be experts to get a legislator’s ear—just constituents.”
That’s not to suggest that our legislators have all been asleep at the leash. In 2009, Rep. Fred Camillo (R-Greenwich) joined former state representative Annie Hornish (now Connecticut director of the HSUS) to establish Legislators for Animal Advocacy (LAA), which made the Nutmeg State the first to have a caucus explicitly dedicated to animal-rights issues (California and Colorado have since followed suit). “My dream would be to see every state establish such a caucus,” says Camillo, who spent three years advocating for “Buddy’s Law” and, in the first year of the caucus, successfully introduced a proposal to establish a “Pet Lemon Law.”
This law—targeted primarily at the 18 pet stores in Connecticut that sell puppies and kittens—requires the stores’ owners to reimburse consumers up to $500 in veterinary expenses should any pet they sell turn out to be sick. If the pet becomes ill within 20 days of sale, or a genetic defect is found within six months, they must replace the animal or provide a full refund. They also must display information regarding each dog’s breeder (known as U.S. Department of Agriculture “certificates of origin”) openly on all puppy cages. Shops must inform consumers of these provisions at point of purchase. In 2012, the legislature closed the law’s “love loophole” that allowed store owners to demand an animal be returned before they had to issue any reimbursement. Now, disappointed buyers can get financial satisfaction and keep their pets.
The reason for this law is that these stores routinely sell animals bred at substandard U.S. “puppy mills.” Largely found in Kansas, Arkansas, Missouri and Pennsylvania—the latter two have been called the “hubs” of the trade—puppy mills are notorious for operating as large-scale factory-farm-style profit machines. Little regard is given to the animals they breed, who are forced to endure pregnancy after pregnancy until they can no longer reproduce, at which point they’re often illegally euthanized. The resulting offspring are born into overcrowded and unsanitary conditions without adequate veterinary care, food or socialization. Because insufficient attention is given to genetic hardiness, many of the babies are born with unchecked hereditary defects.
While these breeders fall under the jurisdiction of the USDA (which investigates and maintains records of their operational violations), little is done to ensure that the problems get corrected. “The USDA is simply stretched too thin to enforce the laws,” says Heather Bradley, president of a Guilford organization called Connecticut Coalition Against Puppy Mills. Animals who are damaged may have two strikes against them: The HSUS reports that 30 percent of all dogs bought in pet stores wind up in municipal shelters. Bradley’s group stages monthly peaceful protests outside Connecticut pet shops as a form of public education, an initiative it launched in 2011 with demonstrations in front of Guilford’s All Pets Club. “If even two people come up to us at a protest and learn something about this issue, it’s worth our time,” she says.
Connecticut Coalition Against Puppy Mills has also joined with the CVA and LAA in the fight to pass legislation that would prohibit outright the sale of puppy mill pets in Connecticut. A proposal to this end, known as House Bill 5027, introduced in the last legislative session by Sen. John McKinney (R-Fairfield) and Rep. Brenda Kupchick (R-Fairfield), had significant bipartisan and grassroots support, including more than 50 cosponsors. (Kupchick admits that she literally had a dog in this fight—a beagle named Copper, bought from a pet store, who in her 12 years of life racked up $16,000 in vet bills.) Ultimately, the legislation was defeated by a strong push back from the Pet Store Lobby and Pet Joint Advisory Committee, which represent the interests of pet shop owners—but a compromise was reached, establishing a task force that will compile data for review of the issue in the February 2014 legislative session.
Pet store owners continue to deny that they sell puppy mill animals, though Connecticut files certificates of origin for every dog brought into the state—that Harrell says clearly show otherwise. “We have a person who researches these certificates and looks up the USDA breeder violations. We’re finding that every pet store in Connecticut that sells puppies, sells puppy-mill dogs. It’s what we are hoping to officially demonstrate with this task force.” Bradley has become all too familiar with the pet stores’ evasions. “I sat down with the owner of All Pets Club two years ago for an hour-and-a-half meeting,” she says. “He refused to acknowledge that they get their puppies from mills or factories. Even when you present these shop owners with the USDA reports, they’ll keep insisting that they’re dealing with nice little old ladies in Kansas. The only person who’s ever admitted it’s a cruel business is Sean Silverman, the owner of Puppy Love in Danbury. He swears he’ll get out of it in two years when he pays off the mortgage on his home.”
Meanwhile, for attempting to pursue this legislation, Camillo, McKinney and Kupchick have been accused of hindering small business. “That’s not what we’re trying to do,” says Camillo. “We’re all clearly pro-business. What we’re trying to do is promote the welfare of animals who can’t speak for themselves.” It’s a battle, he admits, that will continue to be won “piece by piece.” Possibly even on the municipal level: The town of Branford is considering its own local ordinance to ban the retail sale of cats, dogs and rabbits—a law that’s already on the books in San Diego, Calif., Albuquerque, N.M., and Austin, Texas. Such laws have proven to be a boon for both local pet breeders and animal shelters—Albuquerque’s shelter adoptions have risen 23 percent since its ordinance went into effect in 2006. Camillo hopes for a cooperative arrangement between pet stores and shelters in Connecticut. “I think pet shop owners could sell shelter animals,” he says. “It’d be a win-win for everybody.”
But it wouldn’t mean that all potential pets’ problems would be over. “If we get this state legislation passed, there’s still the issue of Internet pet sales,” says Bradley, sounding a cautionary note. “The number of pets sold in our mom-and-pop stores pales by comparison.”
TEAM (Tait’s Every Animal Matters)
Westbrook, (888) FOR-TEAM (everyanimalmatters.org)
The 34 felines aboard TEAM’s mobile van, stationed on this day at the New Haven Animal Shelter—26 females and eight males—have no idea what’s in store for them. Stacked in carriers and ordered by number, they’ve been brought here by their owners for routine spay or neuter surgery, an appointment that includes a brief physical exam, ear mite treatment and nail-trim (if needed) and vaccinations (if requested). The fee: $80, a fraction of what owners would pay for these services at a veterinarian’s office.
But many of these cats don’t even have their own vets, and TEAM’s ministrations may be the only medical care they ever receive. Senior surgeon Dr. Art Heller—a veterinarian who works with the clinic three days a week—works with careful efficiency as his assistants prep each patient: administering anesthesia, giving vaccines, shaving the female cats’ bellies, awakening the animals when the surgery is over. It’s not unusual to hear an angry screech or see a pitched battle as the techs try to extricate frightened cats from their carriers. “These women have the tough job,” Heller says, smiling. Still, his work, especially with the females, is done with what seems to be remarkable delicacy—the incisions are very small, blood loss is minute and the surgery is carefully finished off with dissolving stitches and a touch of surgical glue. (Male cats have it easier: Neutering is an external procedure requiring no incision.)
Of the 160,000 procedures TEAM has done since hitting the road 16 years ago, Heller has performed more than 50,000. His average surgery time per cat is eight minutes. Upon awakening, his patients feel very little surgical discomfort. “It’s mainly the anesthesia hangover that makes them feel crummy,” he says, which is why TEAM has the animals stay in the van for a couple of hours post-surgery before they go home.
Not all surgeries are routine. While the ideal age for a spay/neuter procedure is three or four months, there are plenty of cats who don’t undergo it until years later, which puts them at higher risk for complications. Some, due to underlying health problems, can’t tolerate anesthesia, a problem usually only discovered when it’s too late. “I’ve lost a handful of patients over the years,” Heller admits. (And he means a handful—less than 10.) Then, there are the female cats that are brought in pregnant, even close to full-term; most of the owners in these cases, he says, are completely unaware of the fact. TEAM’s official policy is to euthanize the unborn kittens unless the owner objects. “If it were solely up to me, I wouldn’t do it,” Heller says, sighing. “But I’m not in the position to make moral judgments. People are irresponsible. If each of these cats has five kittens, that’s five more cats who may not get proper care either.”
In the early 1980s John Caltabiano, a Westbrook veterinarian with his own mobile practice in southeastern Connecticut, was painfully aware of the problem of animal homelessness. He established a nonprofit organization called All-Animal Adoption, which put potential adopters in touch with people who had pets available for adoption—but due to lack of funds, the initiative soon fell apart. A decade or so later, however, he received a surprising gift: An attorney for the estate of Vernon A. Tait—a New Haven businessman and animal lover—called with a bequest for All-Animal Adoption. This enabled Caltabiano to reestablish his nonprofit under a new name, the Vernon A. Tait All-Animal Adoption, Preservation and Rescue Fund (Tait’s Every Animal Matters, or TEAM, for short).
Caltabiano was unsure at first what TEAM’s focus should be. For answers, he set up a toll-free phone line for people to call with questions and concerns. “He was inundated with calls from people with too many cats or kittens, who complained about neighbors poisoning cats, you name it,” says Donna Sicuranza, a friend who at the time worked in journalism and public relations. “There didn’t seem to be any end to the numbers of unwanted litters.” Thus was born TEAM’s central mission: providing affordable and accessible feline spay/neuter services as a way of breaking the cycle of unwanted reproduction, but also promoting feline health (cats who are altered live longer, have fewer physical problems and are better behaved). In 1997, Caltabiano and Sicuranza partnered to put Connecticut’s first mobile spay/neuter clinic on the road, offering services for $25 per cat. “John’s theory was, ‘If we bring it, they will come,’” says Sicuranza.
Since then, more than the fee has grown. TEAM now operates two vans, which run every Monday through Friday and alternate Saturdays, visiting over 30 communities statewide and performing, on average, 35 surgeries a day. “We visit New Haven, Fairfield County and greater Hartford several times a month, and park at a number of animal shelters as well as Petco stores,” says Sicuranza, now the organization’s executive director (Caltabiano passed away in 2009). “Most of our staff has been with us for over 10 years.” In addition to Heller, TEAM employs vets Dr. Kim Rio of Berlin and Dr. Valerie Poettgen of Canterbury.
In recent years, a number of other low-cost spay and neuter services (for both cats and dogs) have sprung up in Connecticut, but TEAM remains the only mobile clinic. The organization recently received a grant for its TEAM Incentive Program (TIP), which supports the HSUS- and FoA-approved practice of TNR in dealing with feral cats. Historically, communities around the world have tried to kill off feral colonies by poisoning them, shooting them or bringing them en masse to shelters, where they often wind up being euthanized in large numbers—even though, at the same time, these cats get a lot of support from the humans they live near in the form of food and medical care (ferals rarely become tame enough to be socialized or “adoptable”). The animal-rights perspective maintains that the more humane approach is simple population control. In the TIP program, anyone who traps a feral cat—using a humane trap available from TEAM—and pays the $80 fee to have the animal altered is eligible for a $25 rebate, as long as the cat is rereleased to its colony. “Just before John died, we also developed an oral contraceptive for feral cats,” says Sicuranza. “It’s a fabulous product that you mix into their food once a week; we had many clients nationwide using it. We’re trying now to meet FDA compliance guidelines.”
Help Willy’s Friends
Durham, (203) 988-1718 (helpwillysfriends.org)
When Mark and Sharon Paturzo adopted their Australian shepherd-English springer spaniel mix, Willy, from a local shelter in 2003, they learned a whole lot more than about simply raising one dog. A little background research taught them about the millions of shelter cats and dogs euthanized nationally each year because of a shortage of funds, space and adoptive families coming forward to rescue them. Three years later, the couple founded Help Willy’s Friends (HWF), a 501(c)3 nonprofit with the following goals: to provide shelters, pounds, rescues and related organizations with food, supplies and money for veterinary care; sponsor awareness events to bring attention to the plight of shelter animals; encourage community volunteerism on behalf of animals in need; and promote adoption of pets from shelters and animal rescues rather than purchase from pet stores.
“I just felt that I had to do this,” says Mark Paturzo. “I honestly don’t know why I felt so driven.” The Paturzos’ first project was a one-day pet-food drive in December, 2006, at Agway in North Branford. It became an annual event, eventually taking place at four Agway stores, including North Haven, Middlefield and Southington. Last year, the drive collected 3,000 pounds of food; this year, it’s to be a two-day event.
“Thanks to the success of the holiday drives,” Paturzo says, “we decided to do food collections on a more regular basis.” HWF bins can now be found in pet boutiques, veterinary hospitals, coffee shops and even liquor stores in 33 towns across Connecticut, yielding 22,000 cans and 26,000 pounds of food in the past year alone. Unfortunately, the organization’s list of beneficiaries has also grown, he adds, “as the economy has continued to struggle and people have lost jobs and homes, and had to surrender their pets to shelters.” To date more than 150 shelters, rescues and other charities have received donations from HWF, including out-of-state nonprofits such as Aarph of Vermont, New York’s Yonkers Animal Shelter and New Jersey’s Sayreville Sandy Relief Center.
HWF’s signature awareness event is the Help Willy’s Friends Pet Fair, held every May on the grounds of Coginchaug Regional High School in Durham. Established in 2009, the event is a chance for local animal rescues, shelters and other welfare organizations to network with one another, meet the public and give their animals available for adoption a day of fun and frolic (and a possible introduction to their forever families—one much anticipated highlight is the Pet Parade, during which shelter and rescue volunteers provide the adoptable dogs they’ve brought a few moments in the spotlight). In five years the number of organizations attending the event has grown from roughly 20 to 62, and 100 percent of the proceeds from the pet fair, says Paturzo, is reinvested in the fund to benefit Willy’s Friends. Nearly $5,000 a year has been given to Connecticut shelters and rescues in the form of annual grants known as the “Willy Award”: Recipients have included Stratford’s Helping Hands for Wildlife, the Branford Compassion Club and East Haven Animal Shelter, among others.
Paturzo’s current goal is to develop a “Willy’s Warehouse”—to find or build a structure large enough to store, and even add to, the food donations that keep pouring in. “Right now, we’re working out of our garage, and space is pretty tight,” he says. All he needs is the funding, so toward this end, he’s “squirreled some money away” and has launched an online shop on the HWF website selling custom HWF sportswear (for humans), green cleaning products and all-natural gel candles. “If we had a warehouse, we could collect food from manufacturers palletfuls at a time,” he says. “Actually, they’d give us the food now, but we’re not asking until we have the room.”
Connecticut Animal Welfare Groups Passionately Protect Animals