Monday, June 13, 2005

20/20 Smear Job on the SPCA: Stossel Lies Again

ABC TV's news program "20/20" recently had a piece by correspondent John Stossel that suggested the SPCA was routinely and improperly seizing expensive pet dogs and selling them for profit as some sort of money-making operation.

Does that sound probable or likely to you? It didn't to me. Used dogs hardly have ready buyers, do they?

I had missed the ABC News TV show, but the transcript was easy to find, and you can read it yourself here >>

I began reading the transcript with some skepticism. John Stossel has a track record of hyper-ventilating about contrived crisis, and he has has even gone so far as to fake laboratory tests (see >> example here) Knowing that, I looked for "tells" to suggest that Stossel was cooking this story, as he has so many others.

The first tell was an absence of photos on the ABC web site. Where were the photos of the clean well-lighted kennels and healthy dogs and horses?

A close reading of the 20/20 transcript showed why there were no pictures: While Stossel was claiming all the animals he found looked "fine," he slipped in a few lines that suggested truth might be otherwise.

It turns out the first woman Stossel visited was a dog breeder with over 120 dogs. It also turned out this woman had not been involved with dogs for very long (her first dog was still alive). This sure sounded like a puppy mill to me!

The second person featured in the 20/20 piece owned a large number of dogs and had left them for four days without anyone in attendance.

The third person, owned more than two-dozen horses which were apparently in pretty bad shape, as he excused the condition of the animals and their quarters as due to his having fallen on hard times. What 20/20 did not show (but which is easily available from court records) is that the 70-acre farm was in disrepair, had little grass, had holes in the barn walls, and that the doors on the stalls had been chewed by starving horses. A veterinarian who examined the horses found half of them were emaciated, and another 25% in very bad condition. This horse owner has previously been convicted (criminal charges) of animal abuse to these same horses.

Am I missing something, or do these people sound exactly like the kind of people the SPCA should be visiting?

On a hunch, I went to the Texas SPCA web site and, funny enough, THEY had pictures of the locations and animals that John Stossel had visited and which he said were "perfectly fine".

Judge for yourself >>

Does this look like a perfectly fine way to raise animals? Not to me.

The lesson here is to believe nothing on its face, always be skeptical, and do your own research especially on highly loaded or emotional topics like hunting, animal rights, and animal welfare (if you do not know the difference between animal rights and animal welfare, try "Googling" these two terms as the beginning of your research).

The more emotional people are about a topic, the less rational they are, and the easier they are to manipulate. Republicans and Democrats, Big Business and the Far Left all hope you will be lazy and not do the reasearch because the lazy and ignorant are always easier to lead around by the nose.

As for Stossel, he is a pathetic journalist. Unable to find enough stories to fill his "Give Me a Break" slot on ABC TV, he has now resorted to "Give Us a Fake" reporting.


Brian Workman said...

Mr. Burns,
As with much of reality, the truth lies somewhere between your understanding and the journalist's point of view. You began sticking up for the SPCA's action saying that the dogs should not have been in the care of those particular owners. That is probably true, but the expose was to shine light on the extreme measures that seperate SPCA's have taken to fraudulantly obtain warrants and seize dogs when a warning is in order. I have felt for some time that giving people so emotionally motivated power to impede on other people's rights. In effect many of these groups are given greater power than an ordinary citizen. These are basically animal rights activists that are given varying degrees of power and this expose has shown to what extent many of these groups have gone to further their agendas and place valuable animals with people they would find more suitable. I suggest that you find a way to order the actual broadcast and view it from the perspective of the vet that is brought to view a raid on a breeder and then think whether you would like the captain of the SPCA of Virginia knocking on your door with a supposed vet and animal expert. In the time that has passed since that broadcast, SPCA agents in the South have seized 50 dogs from Floyd Boudreax and before he ever went to trial ,or probably even consulted with his lawyer, they destroyed every dog seized, even pups, as fighting dogs. In my opinion they could have probably made a case against Boudreax as most people that are familiar with Pit Bulls know that he has participated in fighting dogs for the past several decades. The question is why are these people the authorities on who has dogs and whose dogs are confiscated and killed. Finally, anyone who has not the viewed the 20/20 segment please view it and decide for yourself.

PBurns said...

I think, Brian, if you check, that you will find that The SPCA very rarely acts on marginal cases -- they simple have too much to do, and it's pretty easy to get the merely ignorant and slovenly in line (this is the way the SPCA would prefer to handle cases)..

The fact that neither 20/20 nor anyone else can seem to find genuine horror stories about the SPCA should tell you something. I have no doubt there are some bad stories out there (every SPCA is separately incorporated and there's liable to be an idiot running some show somewhere), but they seem to be as rare as toad teeth.

For example, let's look at the horse case the ABC 20/20 show opened with. This was not Mr. Stuebing's first run-in with animal control authorities. In July of 2004 (see he was convicted of criminal abuse after ELEVEN previous warnings. I would suggest that this is more than "three strikes," and it's information very easy to find without even resorting to a case search -- just a little Google. I would note, however, that this information was NOT made available to viewers of 20/20.

As for the woman with 120 dogs in wire cages soaked with urine and feces, do you really think you need a "warning" in such a case? Do you really think this was an accidental? Or ignorance? Or a one-time thing? How much longer do you think these 120 animals should have been allowed to live in those conditions (please review the pictures at the SPCA site previously posted).

I don't think most people who look at the pictures will reach the conclusion that this was an accident or an episodic event -- this abuse was clear "pattern and practice" and there was a legal duty to remove the animals to end their misery one way or another.

Some people, of course, think that because they spent $20 or $200 for something they can do anything they want with it, including deny it medical attention, torture it, kill it, house it in abominable conditions, etc. On this point, they are simply wrong as a matter of law. A lot of people have very fanciful notions of the law -- there are people who think there are no zoning laws and they can do anything they want with their property, there are people who think they do not have to pay taxes, and there are people who think they can engage in child abuse and polygamy. These people are simply wrong, and if they act on their beliefs they will get their legal education in court and perhaps in a jail cell.

I do not know the Boudreaux case you cite, but you yourself say the person has a history of fighting dogs and selling dogs for fights? This is illegal, and it is a matter of law. People who fight dogs and who breed fighting dogs know that their animals can be seized and that they will be disposed of as an instrumentality of that crime. When you fight dogs and breed fighting dogs you are saying you are OK with the very high likelihood that your entire kennel will be put down one day -- this is not a secret or a surprise in the world of fighting dogs, is it? I think it rather unseemly to whine about it, and I trust Mr. Boudreaux is not whining about it now. Real men do not whine, they pay their fines and do their time.

The laughable assertion of the 20/20 piece is that the SPCA is selling valuable animals for profit. It is laughable because 24 starving horses have no value except as dog food -- they are a huge liability in terms of feed, veterinary care, shelter, etc. If you think otherwise, go adopt a horse from the SPCA and see if you can make it healthy and sell it at a profit -- and good luck! The same is true for sick and poorly socialized dogs from puppy mills, and even more so for fighting dogs which are a dime a dozen at any shelter in the country (I saw two yesterday, available to a good home, one a brindle pit age 4 months and another an American bulldog with bilateral deafness due to its father having been a Dalmatian). I will pay you or anyone else $100 to adopt the pair -- conditional upon you still owning them one year from now. The dogs are in Arlington, Virginia.

Patrick Burns
Arlington, Virginia

PBurns said...

SPCA case officers are generally not private citizens -- in most cases they are trained contract employees of the State and they are paid by the State or locality to fill the legislatively-mandated position of animal control officer.

SPCA officers are given legal training and also given training in both animal care and animal control ("now go in and get Brutus the food-possessive Rottweiler into that little plastic crate.")

Rather than result in abuse of the law, assigning animal control duty to trained and dedicated SPCA officers generally ensures that animal abuse laws will be upheld in a fair and uniform manner. Time and experience have shown that regular cops are much more likely to freak out from a case of animal neglect or cruelty than a professional, full-time, SPCA officer who has generally seen a lot and is very aware that the best solution for the animal is if the owner can be persuaded -- under threat of fine or seizure of the animal -- to do the right thing. When a regular police officer testifies in an animal control case he or she has no special training in animal care, animal law, or animal control. The SPCA officer generally does.

An SPCA officer working for the state is paid by the state and in fact many (if not most) SPCA offices in the U.S. are almost entirely funded by state and municipal contracts -- they do not depend on fines for income, as some maintain.

This is not to say the SPCA is perfect. Some officers are idiots, some local financial mismanagement occurs from time to time, some SPCA-run shelters are less than exemplary themselves. People are people. That said, no one has ever come up with a better solution for animal control than having a contract SPCA officer do the work. If the SPCA screws up, they can lose their contract. If you can actually find a case where the SPCA has screwed up, County Managers and state legislators are going to be all ears. In fact, however, such cases appear to be very rare.