Month: April 2015

Guest Blogger, Penny Morgan (

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Dog fighting is one of the most brutal and sadistic of all ‘sporting’ activities – the term ‘blood sport’ is more suitable; it reflects the darkest side of human nature, and those who indulge in such practices are frequently abusers of other humans, too. Yet the sentences handed down are not commensurate with the crime.

The maximum penalty for dog fighting in the UK is 6 months imprisonment and/or a £5000 fine, and the court can order the owner be deprived of the ownership of the dog and banned from owning or keeping another dog. [Section8, Animal Welfare Act 2006].

A couple of recent cases illustrate the types of sentences actually given:

In a 2009 case four people were jailed for their part in one of the EU’s largest dog fighting syndicates. A mother from Lincolnshire, who held dog fights at her home, was sentenced to 18 weeks in prison, ordered to pay £2000 costs and banned for keeping animals for 10 years. Three co-defendants were jailed for between 23 and the maximum 26 weeks for animal cruelty offences.

In another case (2011), a father and son, arrested after an undercover RSPCA operation, were sentenced to 20 weeks and banned from keeping dogs for life, and 12 weeks with a 15 year ban, respectively.

These seemed very light sentences for acts of wanton cruelty.

Recently, a Member of Parliament (Adrian Sanders MP, 15/10/2013) urged a doubling of sentences and/or a fine greater than £20,000 [Section 32(1) Animal Welfare Act 2006] be imposed for ‘egregious’ acts of animal cruelty.

Only about 10% of those found guilty are jailed, and of those most served only 8 weeks; nobody has received the maximum sentence. This government prefers to leave it up to magistrates to determine the length of sentence within the sentencing guidelines, and most seem disinclined to make use of the maximum penalties.

In contrast, if an owner fails to stop their dog harming other people, it could lead to at least 6 months and possibly up to 18 months in jail [Dangerous Dogs Act, 1991, and Sentencing Council for England and Wales]. Furthermore, it has been proposed that owners of dangerous dogs that allow them to attack other persons (weapon dogs) should receive significantly more jail time than the current maximum of 2 years – maybe up to 5 years if another is injured, and 14 years if the attack is fatal. Here, 91% of the public favoured increasing maximum sanctions.

Given the desire to augment sentencing for the use of ‘weapon dogs’, urgent consideration should be given to increasing sentences for dog fighting too.

Dog fighting is a booming criminal industry, but does not stand alone – there is much evidence to suggest that it serves as a hub for other serious illegal activities, such as money laundering, drugs, arms and people trafficking or prostitution. Thus, even if authorities are lukewarm about prosecuting dog fighters, these other anti-social activities ought to be persuasive.

There is also the question of cruelty spilling over into the domestic situation with the abuse of spouses and children. Such lack of empathy can become trans-generational.

For example, quite often the torturing and killing of animals precedes a continual pattern of violence against humans and animals. In dysfunctional families where domestic violence was present, 57% women reported that their husbands had beaten the pets too, and, of those, 32% had children who had abused pets. Children exposed to domestic violence are significantly more likely to have been cruel to animals then children not so exposed.

Neither can it be ignored that several serial killers including Jeffrey Dahmer, Ted Bundy, Edmund Kemper and David Berkowitz all had early histories of animal abuse.

Significantly, and not unrelated, one of the distinguishing features of conduct disorder (Diagnostic & Statistical Manual IV), affecting 6% of all children and often seen as a precursor to antisocial personality disorder (aka psychopathy), is cruelty to animals.

Thus non-human animal abuse can be a precursor to, and concomitant of, human abuse. The offenders’ overall behaviour patterns need to be taken into account when penalties and treatment are considered.

The barbaric practice of dog fighting does not incur custodial sentences proportional to the level of cruelty. Offenders are frequently involved in other serious crimes, and may suffer from psychiatric problems.

Those still advocating dog fighting as some sort of purist, blue-blooded activity, are either deliberately dissembling or sadly deluded. Some even blame animal welfare organisations for the degrading of the noble art of dog fighting! Presumably in former times, before the appearance of upstart animal welfare societies, this elite sport was a model of animal welfare and probity.

– Penny Morgan

After graduating in Zoology from King’s College, London University, I went to Bristol University’s Psychology Dept. to complete a PhD in Animal Behaviour. Later, in Southampton University, I did Post-Doctoral Fellow research into both sleep and bird behaviour. Later (after my children were of a school age), I started the new Psychology Advanced Level course at Peter Symonds’ 6th Form College, now one of the largest in the UK. I have published scientific papers and contributed chapters to a book (‘Social Behaviour in Birds and Mammals’, Academic Press). During the course of researching various aspects of my first book, Prime Witness (about apes gaining ‘personhood’ rights), I became absorbed by the legal issues, so I enrolled in a LLB course (London University) and obtained an LLB in 2003. I have since written two more books – Blood Wood (about illegal logging) and Devil’s Dogs (dog fighting) – and am in the process of completing a fourth (Trophy, about poaching rhino horns). I have contributed articles to the Journal of Animal Law Welfare (the journal of the Association of Lawyers for Animal Welfare), and Protect (the magazine of the League Against Cruel Sports. I’m currently Vice President of the League Against Cruel Sports.

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Animal Advocacy Guest Blogger Thank You Janet Bovitz Sandefur

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Guest Blogger, Scott Blais (

Animal Advocacy Blog Picture Janet Bovitz Sandefur

In zoos, circuses, trekking safaris, logging camps and even in temples, captive elephants are ailing, many are fighting for survival. Around the globe, hundreds of campaigns exist to send elephants to sanctuaries where undeniable and often profoundly positive changes have been observed. But sanctuary is still captivity, it still requires the elephants to be managed, many require life long veterinary care, there are still fences, sometimes heated barns for cold winter nights. So, what’s the difference, what is the critical factor that allows these transformations, these – seemingly rebirths of a new being.

For decades it has been believed by those that work with captive elephants that what we see in their very limited environments is who they are. This is not the case. The negative impact of captivity has reduced elephants to only a small fraction of their potential and true state of being. One of the countless, but most pivotal lessons that came in the early years of managing an expansive natural habitat sanctuary is also one of the most basic elements of social psychology: we become what our environment allows us to.

I have personally witnessed elephants’ lives completely transformed by sanctuary. Elephant after elephant, sometimes with their first steps into their new home, emerge seemingly as a new being. We observed elephants unfairly labeled as killers become vulnerable and sympathetic, antisocial elephants become herd mentors, aggressive elephants turn passive and elephants on death’s doorstep live and thrive for more than a decade. But providing elephants with a healthier environment is just the first step toward healing and recovery.

If recovery were as simple as just providing a new environment, life would be easy. But we’re talking about an inherently complex species, whose captive lives are compounded by the complexities of trauma. Each elephant is as unique and as different as each individual human. They all have vastly varying needs and comforts. While some seemingly recover overnight, others evolve slowly, cautiously pealing away the layers of self-protective barriers they have built up through decades in order to survive. We’ve observed the gamut of pathways to recovery, and for a time we thought it was due to simply allowing them to return to the nature of being an elephant: letting them be with others of their own kind, grazing, exploring, playing, napping in the sun or under a shade tree. Undoubtedly these elements play a fundamental role, but over time the elephants showed us there was so much more to it than that.

We tried to encourage what we thought what was best for the elephants, but some chose a path that was essentially the opposite of what we assumed they needed. Flora was one of those elephants; an amazing being that taught us that the biggest growth comes when they are given the ability and control to figure themselves out. Flora didn’t want hundreds of acres to wander, and her apparent discomfort was conveyed in very demonstrative ways. After observing her for some time, we realized that it was not the space that was daunting, it was her inability to control herself – she lacked self-accountability. It appeared that she blamed others, the elephants, people and even the large space for her negative actions. Providing her a smaller safe space allowed her to confront the real issue. As time went on, and she was allowed to chose her own way forward, she eventually realized it was not the external stimuli, it was the anger she had inside, her own inner demons that were driving her actions.

To put this in perspective, most captive elephants have been captured from the wild at infancy. They are forced to submit through extreme dominance, put in a wooden crate and shipped overseas. Flora, was a result of a culling, where families were gunned down for population control, the infants were spared this fate. Instead they were sentenced of a life of confinement in a zoo or performing in circus. If this were a human, they would require psychological support for years, possibly even for life. These inner demons and deep-rooted anger are completely understandable. With Flora, we did the only thing that seemed right, to honor her desire and self-determined needs, even if they didn’t make sense. Because of this, we watched a remarkable transformation as she developed a greater understanding of herself. She learned to control her emotions by adjusting what and whom she exposed herself to. It was through these unexpected pathways to recovery that we realized that the principle factor for recovery is providing the opportunity for elephants to be autonomous. The most profound internal growth occurred when we trusted their voice and encouraged them to take control over the choices that made a substantially impact on their day, their comfort and their life.

Autonomy is not a requirement for life, but it is imperative for intelligent, social, emotional and intentional beings to truly live and thrive. This isn’t profound wisdom. It is fundamental animal nature. It is what we as humans desire, to be in control of our own lives. Out of all of the wondrous experiences I’ve had with elephants, reunions of old friend, unusual friendships, physical and emotional recoveries and transformations that make the elephants unrecognizable to former keepers, none are as incredible as seeing the moment when they find their inner-self, their true identity. When an elephant, taken from the wild as an infant, kept in essential solitude, judged and falsely labeled, realizes that they, for the first time in decades, finally have control over their own life. This is the true definition of Sanctuary and why we say that Sanctuary is so much more than expansive space, it’s a way of being that honors life, who elephants are and who they will become.

The future for captive elephant health is clear. It’s time to take everything elephants have taught us and share it to help provide captive elephants around the globe with a new life. We owe it to these incredible beings, the lives that human desire have suppressed, to finally give them the space, security and autonomy to be who they really are as elephants and individual. It is a solution; a healing remedy and a new dawn for a new life – it is Sanctuary!

Animal Advocacy Blog Picture Janet Bovitz Sandefur








– Scott Blais CEO and founder of Global Sanctuary for Elephants

Scott has more than 20 years of experience managing African and Asian elephants in zoos, circuses and at a natural habitat sanctuary. In 1995 Scott Blais co- founded the first extensive habitat sanctuary for elephants, due to a desire to provide captive elephants with more. He continued to develop progressive facilities and provide daily care for elephants there for 17 years. Scott is now taking the lessons taught by the elephants to provide a life of true sanctuary for elephants around the globe.

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Animal Advocacy Guest Blogger Thank You Janet Bovitz Sandefur

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Guest Blogger, Susan Bass (

Animal Advocacy Blog Picture Janet Bovitz Sandefur


Ah, Spring. For most people it’s a season of renewal and new beginnings. But it’s also the season when my email starts blowing up with messages from concerned animal lovers and advocates about big cats and cubs being exploited at fairs all across America. It happens at big state fairs and tiny community fairs. The busy Spring/Summer fair season means constant travel and misery for tigers and lions.

I’ve learned to dread fair season.

I receive heartbreaking calls about big state fairs with circus acts featuring adult tigers. Most fairs last about 10 days. That’s TEN days the lions and tigers are confined to their tiny transport cages, other than when they are being forced to perform three or four shows a day in front of gawking, noisy fair patrons. Temperatures hover around 100 degrees during many of these fairs.

Last year, the Nebraska State Fair hosted a traveling circus act with tigers and lions. The fair’s website boasts that the circus cats would be “on display all hours.” They even promoted the show as being located in their “Family Fun Zone.” Shame on them. Seeing tigers and lions forced to perform as entertainment and being on display 24/7 is certainly NO fun for the cats. And what message does it send to impressionable children? The wrong message that these majestic cats are ours to use and profit from however we wish.

The saddest calls I receive are from animal lovers begging me to do something to help tiny tiger or lion cubs being used for photo opps at fairs. Exhibitors exploit cubs as young as three weeks old by charging fair patrons to hold, feed or have their photo taken with a cub. Often there is a long line of fairgoers awaiting their turn. All day long and into the evening, the cubs have to contend with constant jostling, noise, lack of sleep, screaming kids and camera flashes. The cubs are usually so exhausted from lack of sleep – some even appear to have been drugged so they remain “calm” while being held — they can’t even hold their heads up. Many become very ill and suffer diarrhea and other maladies.

Last year the Florida State Fair had a 4-month-old tiger cub named Takara (pictured below) on display. She lived in a dog carrier inside a very small chain-link fenced cage for all 11 days of the fair. For $20, up to six people at a time could enter the cub’s cage to take photos and pet her.

Animal Advocacy Blog Picture Janet Bovitz Sandefur

When I heard about the awful situation, I contacted Florida State Fair management to express my concerns for this poor cub. I also went to the fair with a few other Big Cat Rescue volunteers to check out the exhibit and tiger cub ourselves, since this abuse was happening right in our own backyard of Tampa.

We were appalled at the condition of the tiger cub. She clearly seemed drugged; her behavior was well beyond sleepiness or lethargy. Her fur was matted and dirty. When the handler roughly pulled her out of the dog carrier and placed her on top of it, she barely opened her eyes. One of the volunteers I brought along was a veterinary technician and it was also her professional opinion that the cub was drugged. We were within inches of the cub and she was able to evaluate the cub’s eyes and behavior. There were also several spots of diarrhea in the sawdust surrounding the cub’s cage.

I believe stopping the abuse and exploitation of wild animals used as entertainment is the social justice movement of our time.

In this day and age, it is unconscionable for fairs to host exhibits where captive exotic cats are bred and used as entertainment, taken from their mothers shortly after birth so they can be used as lucrative photo props, forced to perform, and subjected to living and traveling for weeks at a time in small cages and semi-trailers.

So what can YOU do to help? The most important way is to NEVER pay to hold a tiger or lion cub and to NEVER patronize any fair or other venue that has a circus act with big cats. When demand for big cats and cubs dries up, the abuse will end too.

Susan Bass is Director of Public Relations at Big Cat Rescue in Tampa, Florida. Her primary role is expanding the reach of the sanctuary’s advocacy work and developing strategies and initiatives to bring the issues of big cats in captivity and in the wild to the forefront of the public and media. She can be reached at

You can find on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and YouTube.

Animal Advocacy Guest Blogger Thank You Janet Bovitz Sandefur

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Guest Blogger, Rob Smith (

I started Shop for your Cause as a way to help small non-profits raise much needed money, as well as create a platform where highly engaged Member’s could help influence the world around them. After fundraising for the world’s largest environmental NGO – the World Wildlife Fund – I knew that there had to be new and innovative ways to help other, smaller, non-profits fundraise.

Animal Advocacy Blog Picture Janet Bovitz Sandefur is an online affinity shopping mall, click-to-donate, and activist site. We help the every day consumer influence their favorite cause with each purchase they make at thousands of large retail stores. We also allow people to take daily actions, such as clicking for their cause. Each daily click to one of our webpages raises two pennies for their favorite charity. Aside from ways to fundraise, our Member’s can sign petitions, take pledges, and follow our blog to help positively influence the world around them. Animal rights and environmental organizations inspire most of our actions, but we want people to be able to help any cause they care about.

I have personally rescued many animals and am an avid outdoorsman, so I am able to spend my days helping influence the world around me in ways that I truly am passionate and care about. It is nice knowing that there is a large group of people who want to engage in causes that mean something to them.

I encourage everyone to use Shop for your Cause and help positively influence the world around them via their daily actions.

– Rob Smith
   Founder and CEO

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Animal Advocacy Guest Blogger Thank You Janet Bovitz Sandefur




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