WHAT I LEARNED AT A DODGE CITY MEATPACKING PLANT

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2021/07/meatpacking-plant-dodge-city/619011/

About beef, about myself, about AmericaBy Michael HoltzJULY/AUGUST 2021 ISSUESHARE

This article was published online on June 14, 2021.https://audm.herokuapp.com/player-embed/?pub=atlantic&articleID=pulling-count-holtz

On the morning of may 25, 2019, a food-safety inspector at a Cargill meatpacking plant in Dodge City, Kansas, came across a disturbing sight. In an area of the plant called the stack, a Hereford steer had, after being shot in the forehead with a bolt gun, regained consciousness. Or maybe he had never lost it. Either way, this wasn’t supposed to happen. The steer was hanging upside down by a steel chain shackled to one of his rear legs. He was showing what is known in the euphemistic language of the American beef industry as “signs of sensibility.” His breathing was “rhythmic.” His eyes were open and moving. And he was trying to right himself, which the animals commonly do by arching their back. The only sign he wasn’t exhibiting was “vocalization.”

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The inspector, who worked for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, told employees in the stack to stop the moving overhead chain to which the cattle were attached and “reknock” the steer. But when one of them pulled the trigger on a handheld bolt gun, it misfired. Someone brought over another gun to finish the job. “The animal was then stunned adequately,” the inspector wrote in a memorandum describing the incident, noting that “the timeframe from observing the apparent egregious action to the final euthanizing stun was approximately 2 to 3 minutes.”

Three days after the incident occurred, the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, citing the plant’s history of compliance, put the plant on notice for its “failure to prevent inhumane handling and slaughter of livestock.” FSIS ordered the plant to create an action plan to ensure that such an incident didn’t happen again. On June 4, the agency approved a plan submitted by the plant’s manager and said in a letter to him that it would defer a decision about punishment. The chain could keep moving, and with it the slaughtering of up to 5,800 cows a day.

The first time I stepped foot in the stack was late last October, after I had been working at the plant for more than four months. To find it, I arrived early one day and worked my way backwards down the chain. It was surreal to see the slaughter process in reverse, to witness step-by-step what it would take to reassemble a cow: shove its organs back into its body cavities; reattach its head to its neck; pull its hide back over its flesh; draw blood back into its veins.

During my visits to the kill floor, I saw a severed hoof lying inside a metal sink in the skinning room, and puddles of bright-red blood dotting the red-brick floor. One time, a woman in a yellow synthetic-rubber apron was trimming away flesh from skinless, decapitated heads. A USDA inspector working next to her was doing something similar. I asked him what he was cutting. “Lymph nodes,” he said. I found out later that he was performing a routine check for diseases and contamination.

On my last trip to the stack, I tried to be inconspicuous. I stood against the back wall and watched as two men standing on a raised platform cut vertical incisions down the throat of each passing cow. As far as I could tell, all of the animals were unconscious, though a few of them involuntarily kicked their legs. I watched until a supervisor came over and asked what I was doing. I told him I wanted to see what this part of the plant was like. “You need to leave,” he said. “You can’t be here without a face shield.” I apologized and told him that I would get going. I couldn’t have stayed for much longer anyway; my shift was about to start.

Getting a job at the Cargill plant was surprisingly easy. The online application for “general production” was six pages long. It took less than 15 minutes to fill out. At no point was I required to submit a résumé, let alone references. The most substantial part of the application was a 14-question form that asked things like:

“Do you have experience working with knives to cut meat (this does not include working in a grocery store or deli)?”

No.

“How many years have you worked in a beef production plant (example: slaughter or fabrication, not a grocery store or deli)?”

No experience.

“How many years have you worked in a production or plant environment (example: assembly line or manufacturing work)?”

Zero.

Four hours and 20 minutes after hitting “Submit,” I received an email confirmation for a phone interview the next day, May 19, 2020. The interview lasted three minutes. When the woman conducting it asked me for the name of my last employer, I told her that it was the First Church of Christ, Scientist, the publisher of The Christian Science Monitor. I had worked at the Monitor from 2014 to 2018. For the last two of those four years, I was its Beijing correspondent. I had quit to study Chinese and freelance.

“And what did you do there?” the woman asked about my time at the Church.

“Communications,” I said.

The woman asked a couple of follow-up questions about when I quit and why. During the interview, the only question that gave me pause was the final one.

“Do you have any issues or concerns working in our environment?” she asked.

After hesitating for a moment, I replied, “No, I don’t.”

With that, the woman said that I was “eligible for a verbal, conditional job offer.” She told me about the six positions for which the plant was hiring. All were for the second shift, which at the time was running from 3:45 in the afternoon to between 12:30 and 1 o’clock in the morning. Three of the jobs were in harvesting, the side of the plant more commonly known as the kill floor, and three were in fabrication, where the meat is prepared for distribution to stores and restaurants.

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I quickly decided that I wanted a job in fab. Temperatures on the kill floor can approach 100 degrees in the summer, and, as the woman on the phone explained, “the smell is stronger because of the humidity.” Then there were the jobs themselves, jobs like removing hides and “dropping tongues.” After you remove the tongue, the woman said, “you do have to hang it on a hook.” Her description of fab, on the other hand, made it sound less medieval and more like an industrial-scale butcher shop. A small army of assembly-line workers saw, cut, trim, and package all of the meat from the cows. The temperature on the fab floor ranges from 32 to 36 degrees. But, the woman told me, you work so hard that “you don’t feel the cold once you’re in there.”On the evening before I left for Dodge City, my mom and I went to my sister and brother-in-law’s house for a steak dinner. “It might be the last one you ever have,” my sister said.

We went over the job openings. Chuck cap puller was immediately out because it involved walking and cutting at the same time. The next to go was brisket bone for the simple reason that having to remove something called brisket fingers from in between joints sounded unappealing. That left chuck final trim. That job, as the woman described it, consisted entirely of trimming pieces of chuck “to whatever spec it is that they’re running.” How hard could that be? I thought to myself. I told the woman that I would take it. “Perfect,” she said, and went on to tell me my starting pay ($16.20 an hour) and the conditions of my job offer.

A couple of weeks later, after a background check, a drug screening, and a physical exam, I got a call about my start date: June 8, the following Monday. The drive to Dodge City from Topeka, where I had been living with my mom since mid-March because of the coronavirus pandemic, takes about four hours. I decided that I would leave on Sunday.

On the evening before I left, my mom and I went to my sister and brother-in-law’s house for a steak dinner. “It might be the last one you ever have,” my sister said when she called to invite us over. My brother-in-law grilled two 22-ounce rib eyes for him and me and a 24-ounce sirloin for my mom and sister to split. I helped my sister cook the side dishes: mashed potatoes and green beans sautéed in butter and bacon grease. The quintessential home-cooked meal for a middle-class family in Kansas.

The steak was as good as any I’ve had. It’s hard to describe it without sounding like an Applebee’s commercial: charred crust, juicy and tender meat. I tried to eat slowly so that I could savor every bite. But soon I was caught up in conversation, and I finished eating without thinking about it. In a state where cows outnumber people two to one, where more than 5 billion pounds of beef are produced annually, and where many families—including mine, when my three sisters and I were younger—fill their deep freezer once a year with a side of beef, it’s easy to take a steak dinner for granted.

The cargill plant is on the southeastern outskirts of Dodge City, just down the road from a slightly larger meatpacking plant owned by National Beef. The two facilities sit at opposite ends of what is surely the most noxious two-mile stretch of road in southwestern Kansas. Situated close by is a wastewater-treatment plant and a feedlot. On many days last summer, I found the stench of lactic acid, hydrogen sulfide, manure, and death to be nauseating. The oppressive heat only made it worse.

The High Plains of southwestern Kansas are home to four major meatpacking plants: the two in Dodge City, plus one in Liberal (National Beef) and another near Garden City (Tyson Foods). That Dodge City became home to two meatpacking plants is a fitting coda to the town’s early history. Founded in 1872 along the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railroad, Dodge City was originally an outpost for buffalo hunters. After the herds that once roamed the Great Plains were decimated—to say nothing of what happened to the Native Americans who’d once lived there—the city turned to the cattle trade.

Practically overnight, Dodge City became, in the words of a prominent local businessman, “the greatest cattle market in the world.” This was the era of lawmen like Wyatt Earp and gunfighters like Doc Holliday, of gambling and shoot-outs and barroom brawls. To say that Dodge City is proud of its Wild West heritage would be an understatement, and nowhere is that heritage more celebrated—some might say mythologized—than at the Boot Hill Museum. Located at 500 West Wyatt Earp Boulevard, near Gunsmoke Street and the Gunfighters Wax Museum, the Boot Hill Museum is anchored by a full-scale replica of the once-famous Front Street. Visitors can enjoy a sarsaparilla at the Long Branch Saloon or shop for handmade soap and homemade fudge at the Rath & Co. General Store. Entry to the museum is free for Ford County residents, a deal that I took advantage of many times last summer after I moved into a one-bedroom apartment near the local VFW.

Yet for all its dime-novel-worthy stories, Dodge City’s Wild West era was short-lived. In 1885, under growing pressure from local ranchers, the Kansas legislature banned Texas cattle from the state, bringing an abrupt end to the cattle drives that had fueled the town’s boom years. For the next seven decades, Dodge City remained a quiet farming community. Then, in 1961, a company called Hyplains Dressed Beef opened the first meatpacking plant in town (the same one now operated by National Beef). In 1980, a subsidiary of Cargill opened its plant down the road. The beef industry had returned to Dodge City.

Workers handling meat along an illustrated conveyor belt
Illustration by Mark Harris; images by USDA Photo / Alamy; ItalianFoodProduction / Getty

With a combined workforce of more than 12,800 people, the four meatpacking plants are among the largest employers in southwestern Kansas, and all of them rely on immigrants to help staff their production lines. “The packers followed the maxim of ‘Build it and they will come,’ ” Donald Stull, an anthropologist who has studied the meatpacking industry for more than 30 years, told me. “And that’s basically what happened.”https://3246d20dbaf1d2e398ae640359a84593.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

According to Stull, the boom started in the early 1980s with the arrival of refugees from Vietnam and migrants from Mexico and Central America. In more recent years, refugees from Myanmar, Sudan, Somalia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo have all come to work in the plants. Today, nearly one in three Dodge City residents is foreign-born, and three in five are Latino or Hispanic. When I arrived at the plant on my first day of work, I was greeted by four banners at the entrance, one each in English, Spanish, French, and Somali, warning employees to stay home if they were exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19.

I spent much of my first two days at the plant with six other new hires in a windowless classroom near the kill floor. The room had beige cinder-block walls and fluorescent overhead lighting. On the wall near the door hung two posters, one in English and the other in Somali, that read bringing beef to the people. The HR rep who was with us for most of those two days of orientation made sure we didn’t forget that mission. “Cargill is a worldwide organization,” she said before starting a lengthy PowerPoint presentation. “We pretty much feed the world. That’s why when the coronavirus started, we didn’t shut down. Because you guys want to eat, right?” Everyone nodded.

By that point, in early June, COVID-19 had forced at least 30 meatpacking plants across the United States to pause operations and, according to the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting, had killed at least 74 workers. The Cargill plant reported its first case on April 13. Kansas public-health records reveal that over the course of 2020, more than 600 of the plant’s 2,530 employees contracted COVID-19. At least four died.

In March, the plant started to implement a series of social-distancing measures, including some that had been recommended by the CDC and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. It staggered breaks and installed plexiglass barriers on tables in the cafeteria and thick plastic curtains between workstations on the production line. During the third week of August, metal dividers suddenly appeared in the men’s bathrooms, providing workers with a bit of space (and privacy) at the stainless-steel urinal troughs.

The plant also hired a company called Examinetics to screen employees before each shift. In a white tent at the entrance to the plant, a team of medical personnel—all of whom wore N95 masks, white coveralls, and gloves—checked temperatures and handed out disposable face masks. Thermal cameras were set up inside the plant for additional temperature checks. Face coverings were mandatory. I always wore the disposable masks, but many other employees preferred to wear a blue neck gaiter with a United Food and Commercial Workers International Union logo or a black bandana with the Cargill logo and, for some reason, #extraordinary printed on it.

Catching the coronavirus wasn’t the only health risk at the plant. Meatpacking is notoriously dangerous. According to Human Rights Watch, government statistics show that from 2015 to 2018, a meat or poultry worker lost a body part or was sent to the hospital for in-patient treatment about every other day. On the first day of orientation, one of the other new hires, a Black man from Alabama, described a close call he’d had when he worked in packaging at National Beef’s plant up the road. He rolled up his right sleeve to reveal a four-inch scar on the outside of his elbow. “I almost turned into chocolate milk,” he said.

The HR rep told a similar story about a man whose sleeve got caught in a conveyor belt. “He lost his arm up to here,” she said, pointing halfway up her left biceps. She let this sink in for a few moments, before moving on to the next PowerPoint slide: “That’s a good transition into workplace violence.” She began explaining Cargill’s zero-tolerance policy on guns.

After a 15-minute break, we returned to the classroom for a presentation by a union rep.https://3246d20dbaf1d2e398ae640359a84593.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

“Why are we all here?” he asked.

“To make money,” someone responded.

“To make money!” the union rep repeated.

For the next hour and 15 minutes, money—and how the union helped us make more of it—was our focus. The union rep told us that UFCW’s local chapter had recently negotiated a permanent $2 raise for all hourly employees. He explained that all hourly employees would also earn an additional $6 an hour in “purpose pay,” because of the pandemic, through the end of August. This brought the starting wage up to $24.20. The next day at lunch, the man from Alabama told me how eager he was to work overtime. “Right now I’m trying to work on my credit,” he said. “We’ll be working so much, we won’t even have time to spend all that money.”

On my third day of work at the Cargill plant, the number of coronavirus cases in the U.S. surpassed 2 million. But the plant was beginning to bounce back from the outbreak that it had experienced earlier in the spring. (In early May, the plant’s production output had fallen by about 50 percent, according to a text message sent by Cargill’s director of state-government affairs to Kansas’s secretary of agriculture, which I later obtained through a public-records request.) The superintendent in charge of second shift, a giant man with a bushy white beard and a missing right thumb, sounded pleased. “It’s balls to the wall,” I overheard him say to contractors fixing a broken air conditioner. “Last week we were hitting 4,000 a day. This week we’ll probably be around 4,500.”

In fab, processing all of those cows takes place in a cavernous room filled with steel chains, hard-plastic conveyor belts, industrial-size vacuum sealers, and stacks of cardboard shipping boxes. But first is the cooler, where sides of beef are left to hang for an average of 36 hours after they leave the kill floor. When they are brought out for butchering, the sides are broken down into forequarters and hindquarters and then into smaller, marketable cuts of meat. These are what get vacuum-sealed and loaded into boxes for distribution. In non-pandemic times, an average of 40,000 boxes, each weighing between 10 and 90 pounds, are shipped out from the plant every day. McDonald’s and Taco Bell, Walmart and Kroger—they all buy beef from Cargill. The company has six beef-processing plants across the U.S.; the one in Dodge City is the largest.He showed me how to put on a chain-mail tunic that looked made for a knight, layers of gloves, and a white-cotton frock. He led me to a spot near the middle of a 60-foot-long conveyor belt.

The most important tenet of the meatpacking industry is “The chain never stops.” Companies do everything they can to ensure that their production lines keep moving as fast as possible. Yet delays do occur. Mechanical problems are the most common reason; less common are shutdowns initiated by USDA inspectors because of suspected contamination or “inhumane handling” incidents like the one that occurred two years ago at the Cargill plant. Individual workers help keep the line moving by “pulling count”—industry parlance for doing your share of the work. The surest way to lose the respect of your co-workers is to continually fall behind on count, because doing so invariably means more work for them. The most heated confrontations I witnessed on the line happened when someone was perceived to be slacking off. These fights never escalated into anything more than yelling or the occasional elbow jab. If things got out of hand, a foreman would be called over to mediate.

New hires have a probation period of 45 days in which to prove that they can pull count—to “qualify,” as it’s known at the Cargill plant. Each one is supervised by a trainer for the duration of that time. My trainer was 30, just a few months younger than me, and had smiling eyes and broad shoulders. He was a member of a persecuted ethnic minority from Myanmar, the Karen. His Karen name was Par Taw, but after becoming an American citizen in 2019, he changed his name to Billion. “Maybe I’ll be a billionaire one day,” he told me when I asked him how he had chosen his new name. He laughed, as if embarrassed by sharing this part of his American dream.

Billion was born in 1990 in a small village in eastern Myanmar. Karen rebels were in the middle of a long insurgency against the country’s central government. The conflict raged on into the new millennium—it is one of the longest-running civil wars in the world—and forced tens of thousands of Karen to flee over the border into Thailand. Billion was one of them. When he was 12 years old, he began living in a refugee camp there. He moved to the U.S. when he was 18 years old, first to Houston and then to Garden City, where he went to work at the nearby Tyson plant. In 2011, he landed a job at Cargill, where he has worked ever since. Like many Karen people who arrived before him in Garden City, Billion attends Grace Bible Church. It was there that he met Toe Kwee, whose English name is Dahlia. The two started dating in 2009. In 2016, they had their first son, Shine. They bought a house and got married two years later.

Billion was a patient teacher. He showed me how to put on a chain-mail tunic that looked made for a knight, layers of gloves, and a white-cotton frock. Later, he gave me an orange-handled steel hook and a plastic scabbard filled with three identical knives, each with a black handle and a slightly curved six-inch blade, and led me to an empty spot near the middle of a 60-foot-long conveyor belt. Billion slid a knife from the scabbard and demonstrated how to sharpen it using a counterweight sharpener. Then he got to work, trimming away cartilage and bone fragments and ripping off long, thin ligaments from boulder-size pieces of chuck moving past us on the belt.

Billion worked methodically as I stood behind him and watched. He told me that the key was to cut off as little meat as possible. (As a supervisor succinctly put it: “More meat, more money.”) Billion made the job look effortless. In one swift motion, he flipped over 30-pound slabs of chuck with the flick of his hook and pulled out ligaments from folds in the meat. “Take it slow,” he told me after we switched spots.

More: https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2021/07/meatpacking-plant-dodge-city/619011/

How stressed out are factory-farmed animals? AI might have the answer.

The promise and perils of using facial recognition technology on animals.By Laura Bridgeman  Jun 12, 2021, 8:00am EDT

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Much of the research into animal facial expressions has focused on species like dogs and horses. But some of the most cutting-edge work is aimed at an unlikely subject: the farmed hog.

The typical hog factory farm employs a small number of workers to oversee hundreds, or even thousands, of pigs — too many for the people running the facility to tell which ones might be in distress. Researchers at the Centre for Machine Vision at the University of West England, where pig emotion recognition work is being conducted, envision this technology could be used to help farmworkers more readily identify sickness and injury. If AI can routinely scan the pigs’ faces and alert workers to particularly stressed-out animals, treatment can come sooner and suffering can be reduced.

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There is even potential for the technology someday advancing to the point of detecting “happiness” in pigs — a holy grail for animal ag.

But while the idea of learning more about what animals are feeling is self-evidently enticing — why wouldn’t we want to learn more about them? — some animal welfare advocates question the very premise of this research. While the bulk of the funding is from the UK government, one reason for the skepticism is that the research is partly supported by companies in the meat and agriculture industry, including a pig genetics company that has availed its farms for the study. It’s not hard to see that industry’s interest in this work: Keeping more pigs alive under intensive conditions would be a financial boon, as would being able to advertise how “happy” the animals were — something the Centre’s website suggests could be possible.

And that all leads to a deeper question: Just how comfortable — let alone happy — can a pig be on a factory farm? In the US, nearly all pigs raised for meat are kept in unnatural, highly mechanized, and crowded conditions, given no access to the outdoors. Conditions are similar in much of the European Union, and factory farming is on the rise in low- and middle-income countries as global demand for meat increases. These environments are so difficult to endure that, by some estimates, up to 35 percent of US-raised pigs die before ever reaching the market.

Piglets crowd a stall inside a hog farm in Drahnsdorf, Germany, in 2016.

The project of discerning the emotional state of pigs — and the meat industry’s larger push to invent new technology that promises to improve animal welfare — illustrates the fine line between meaningful efforts to reduce animal suffering and so-called “humane-washing,” where animal welfare is portrayed as being better than it actually is.

There is a growing body of research that shows what changes farms could make today to reduce the suffering of farmed animals, like eliminating extreme confinement, ending breeding practices that make animals grow too big too fast, and providing outdoor access and enrichments designed to mimic experiences they would normally enjoy if left to their own devices. All of which raises the question: Who is this new technology really for — the pigs, or the humans who raise, slaughter, and eat them?

How to identify stressed-out pigs

The most cost-effective methods of raising animals tend to cause the most harm. Animals’ bodies become levers on which a balancing act is performed: expending the fewest resources (such as living space) while keeping animals alive and productive. Economic considerations often outweigh welfare, resulting in the inhumane conditions that are a hallmark of intensive animal agriculture.

On the side of animal well-being are researchers like Melvyn Smith, director of the Centre for Machine Vision, for whom improving animal welfare is a big motivator in his quest to use AI to identify stressed-out pigs. “If we could understand how the animal is feeling, if the animal can tell us this itself, then that gives us an opportunity to tailor treatment and care for individual animals,” he told me.

To try to understand how an animal is feeling, he and his colleagues, in partnership with Scotland’s Rural College, are building on past facial recognition research. They have already trained a form of deep-learning AI that is tailored to analyzing images, known as a convolutional neural network (CNN), to distinguish between individual pigs just by analyzing photos of their faces.

This new project — aimed at recognizing emotions — adds a layer of nuance to this research by training the CNN to recognize the difference between stressed and unstressed pigs.THE MOST COST-EFFECTIVE METHODS OF RAISING ANIMALS TEND TO CAUSE THE MOST HARM

Like other deep learning algorithms, the Centre’s CNN learns by being exposed to data sets — in this case, thousands of photographs of pig faces that are likely to be experiencing stress or not. Cameras affixed just above the water spigot where pigs drink allow for close-up and relatively uniform images of each pig every time they take a sip. The CNN then analyzes each photograph, searching for subtle variations in the pigs’ faces around the eyes, the position of the ears, and other features.

To observe whether pigs are stressed, the animals are placed in situations known to be either mildly stressful or preferable. Pigs kept in pens with multiple generations tend to experience stress (particularly true of younger pigs), whereas relatively stress-free environments can be created by giving pigs essentially an all-you-can-eat buffet. Saliva and blood can be measured to determine cortisol levels, a chemical associated with a stress response.

With the three-year project about halfway complete, the results so far are impressive: The CNN is able to distinguish between pigs’ stressed and unstressed facial expressions more than 90 percent of the time.

By helping AI recognize expressions related to core emotional states in pigs, farmworkers could be alerted to individuals that are experiencing discomfort, allowing for swifter medical attention or alterations to the pigs’ living environment.

Caring for farmed animals as individuals is becoming increasingly difficult due to intensive animal agriculture operations. On smaller-scale farms, workers are able to spend far more time with individual pigs, getting to know animals’ personalities and watch out for suggestions that they may be unwell. But most pigs live on factory farms, where just a few workers can be responsible for the care of thousands of animals.

And factory farms are ramping up around the world: In the US, where factory farming has become the norm for animal agriculture generally, nearly 130 million pigs were raised and slaughtered in 2019 alone. The UK saw intensive pig farming increase 26 percent between 2011 and 2017. In China, a “hog hotel” factory farm consisting of a collection of buildings reaching 12 stories into the sky clocks in as the biggest multi-story hog farm on the planet, with the capacity to house upward of 1,000 pigs per floor.

A sow with her piglets in a farrowing crate in Germany. Factory farms are ramping up around the world.

It is no easy task to keep pigs alive within the crowded indoor conditions of factory farms. According to the Iowa Pork Industry Center at Iowa State University, about one in three pigs die before reaching the market due to factors like stillbirth, sow crushinginfectious diseases, and poor air quality. Not only does this figure represent massive economic losses for the industry, it also demonstrates the sheer scale of health problems pigs on factory farms must regularly contend with, many of which can cause chronic physical and psychological pain even when they are not ultimately fatal.

Identifying negative emotions like stress could help reduce the suffering of farmed pigs. But the research won’t end there: The next goal is detecting subtler emotions, including happiness.

Can animals have a good life on a factory farm?

Interest in animal facial expressions seems to be growing within the scientific community. Facial coding systems are being developed for species like horses and dogs, where expressions related to pain or frustration are being mapped out. Dogs have been observed to make “cute” faces at humans, while rats and chimps are perceived to smile and laugh when they are tickled.

But is happiness something that can be measured by facial expression?

Smith’s team wants to find out. Once the current study on pig stress is complete, the next stage will be seeing whether the CNN can detect other, more nuanced emotions, perhaps one day giving “farmers and their prospective customers an idea of how happy their pigs are,” as the Centre’s website notes.

But technology capable of detecting happiness and more subtle or complex emotions is not without controversy. When it’s applied to human beings, critics warn of the inaccuracies arising with a one-to-one mapping of prototypical expressions to emotions. A scowl doesn’t always mean anger; a furrowed brow doesn’t always denote concentration.

Further complicating the matter is that happiness is a philosophically elusive concept even when it comes to Homo sapiens, since there remains a lack of consensus over what exactly constitutes happiness. Fleeting moments of pleasure, joy, or contentment, along with longer-term experiences of an engaged, meaningful life, are thought to be among the ingredients associated with states of happiness in people.

While the constituents of happiness probably look different depending on the species, certain conditions are more likely to guarantee the suppression of happiness regardless of the kind of animal.

“Pigs can never be happy in factory farms,” says Lori Marino, director of the Kimmela Center for Animal Advocacy and an expert in animal behavior who co-authored a study on pig cognition and emotion. To Marino, “a CAFO [concentrated animal feeding operation] is so far from what a pig needs to thrive that it could not be a place that would make a pig happy or content. They are not designed for pig happiness.”

Inside a CAFO, or concentrated animal feeding operation, in Lawler, Iowa, in 2018.

“I also worry that these companies will only share data that are self-serving and the data will be biased toward convincing people that pigs are happy in CAFOs,” she continued.

These concerns may be well-founded. People and businesses that use animals often state that the animals under their control are happy, like the California Milk Advisory Board’s “Happy Cow” campaign or Elon Musk’s “totally happy” lab monkey.

Such claims of animal happiness can be dubious given the mounting science revealing the extent to which animals can be harmed in captivity. One of Marino’s other studies looks at how captivity can cause brain damage in some animals, impairing cognitive functions such as memory and decision-making.

Other researchers conducted a study that found horses that were confined within stalls emitted brain waves associated with states like depression and anxiety, whereas horses allowed to roam in herds on pastures showed brain waves associated with feelings of calm. Pregnant pigs kept in gestation crates, cages that are barely bigger than their bodies, are known to become unresponsive over time — behavior that has been linked to depression. Much is already known about the emotional state of animals in captivity without state-of-the-art tech telling us.

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Smith’s inquiry into whether pigs are happy on farms may find they’re not, but that doesn’t deter him. He says he is interested in switching the longstanding emphasis within the animal research community from detecting simply an absence of negative emotions to detecting positive emotions, and that this might lead to a better understanding of what contributes to higher quality of life and happiness for pigs.

But given that the current project is partly supported by industry stakeholders, including the farming technology company AgSense (owned by Valmont Industries), JSR Genetics Ltd. (a pig breeding company), and Garth Pig Practice (a veterinary consulting service), skepticism about the uses of this technology is in order. (AgSense, Valmont Industries, and Garth Pig Practice did not respond to requests for comments for this article.)

Moving the needle on animal welfare

The intensive animal agriculture industry is facing increasing scrutiny of operations that not only harm animals but give rise to a litany of damaging consequences, from perpetuating environmental racism — especially in North Carolina, where hog farms disproportionately pollute predominantly Black communities — to accelerating climate change. Demands to abolish factory farming altogether are growing louder.

Still, improvements in farmed animal welfare are worthwhile since it’s unlikely factory farming is going away anytime soon. Once implemented, the Centre’s CNN may quantifiably improve the welfare of pigs on factory farms, even if incrementally.

But while there’s still much to learn about animal welfare, there’s even more that we already know. If the pork sector were concerned with animal thriving, practices known to cause chronic stress — such as gestation crates — would already be eradicated.

Greenpeace activists call on European Parliament members to vote against livestock factory farms in Brussels in 2019. 

There exists abundant evidence of the pain male piglets endure when they are castrated without anesthesia, yet these mutilations continue to be widespread.

Confining pigs indoors within crowded, barren pens on concrete flooring can lead to abnormal biting behaviors that can devolve into cannibalism — something that can be addressed by giving pigs additional space and covering floors with natural materials like peat or compost.

AI technology may one day yield deeper insights into farmed animals’ emotional states. And there’s some genuine value in research diving into what animals are feeling. The question that looms over the use of such tech in a factory farming context is whether we already know enough anyway.

Bear capture case illuminates dark side of pursuing wildlife with dogs for ‘sport’

https://www.sltrib.com/news/environment/2021/06/07/bear-capture-case/

Parowan man who pleaded guilty wants his hunting privileges restored, while a dog trainer is headed to trial on felony charges.

(Utah Division of Wildlife Resources) Utah law allows hunters to pursue black bears with dogs, but a case involving a Florida dog trainer shows how this "sport" can veer off into criminality.

(Utah Division of Wildlife Resources) Utah law allows hunters to pursue black bears with dogs, but a case involving a Florida dog trainer shows how this “sport” can veer off into criminality.By Brian Maffly  | June 7, 2021, 5:00 a.m.| Updated: 6:26 a.m.

They chased a bear with dogs for at least 90 minutes before it collapsed from exhaustion and cowered in fear, then they put the dehydrated animal in a cage when it became unresponsive and appeared to be dying.

According to court records, William “Bo” Wood kept the bear at his hunting camp in Grand County for two days. After the bear recovered he released the animal to pursue it again, in violation of Utah hunting regulations that prohibit capturing bears and other protected wildlife.

While using dogs to pursue bears is legal and growing in popularity in Utah, the 2018 incident in the La Sal Mountains resulted in felony charges against Wood, 31, a Florida dog trainer who has been arrested for allegedly abusing bears in his home state, and his Utah companion Clifford Stubbs of Parowan.

The incident shines a light into the little-known and ethically suspect practice of pursuing wild animals for sport. Critics say such pursuits harass wildlife, which is not legal in any other context, and could endanger anyone coming upon a bear that had been traumatized by dogs.

Such concerns were front and center in this case, according to evidence presented Thursday to the Utah Wildlife Board as it weighed the fate of Stubbs’s hunting privileges.

Stubbs told the board he knew nothing of his friend’s crimes and condemned Wood’s alleged abuses. A 48-year-old concrete contractor, Stubbs did plead guilty to reduced misdemeanor wildlife violations, but asked the board to drop the three-year suspension imposed by the Division of Wildlife Resources, known as DWR. Stubbs claimed he acted to save the bear, which had collapsed beside a road near homes in a place called Willow Basin near Moab.

“The division wants to use wildlife conservation laws to punish Cliff for conserving wildlife,” his lawyer Brent Ward told the Wildlife Board. ”He had a humane interest in preserving the bear. He did not want a dead bear on his hands. There’s nothing illegal or inappropriate in wanting to keep a bear from dying. Surely that was a greater good than letting the bear die.”(Screen shot courtesy of Utah Division of Wildlife Resources)
This video image depicts several dogs cornering a female black bear during a pursuit on May 19, 2018 in Grand County. The video was found on the phone of William "Bo" Wood, a Florida dog trainer now awaiting trial on felony charges stemming from the incident.

(Screen shot courtesy of Utah Division of Wildlife Resources) This video image depicts several dogs cornering a female black bear during a pursuit on May 19, 2018 in Grand County. The video was found on the phone of William “Bo” Wood, a Florida dog trainer now awaiting trial on felony charges stemming from the incident.

During the three-hour hearing, some board members agreed there were mitigating factors weighing in Stubbs’s favor, but following two hours of deliberation in 4-3 vote, the board upheld Stubbs’s suspension, which doesn’t affect Stubbs’s ability to hunt animals other than bears and cougars.

The decision pleased DWR officials.

“This type of behavior is not representative of the vast majority of people and was not only unsportsmanlike, but it is also illegal,” said Justin Shirley, DWR’s chief of law enforcement. “We always encourage people to contact DWR officials rather than take matters into their own hands. Our agency is committed to enforcing and promoting legal hunting, and this did not fit that description.”

DWR lawyer Kyle Maynard argued Stubbs knowingly violated statutes intended to protect not only wildlife, but also preserve hunting.

“Mr. Stubbs and his hunting party pursued a bear to the point of exhaustion and became concerned the bear may die, something not allowed under a bear pursuit permit. In an attempt to avoid one violation, they committed another. Mr. Stubbs and his party at this point deliberated and made a choice to pick the exhausted bear up, bring it into their possession, locking in a dog box,” Maynard told the board. “He wasn’t acting to save the bear. He was acting to save himself from what he believed was a more serious violation.”(Screenshot via Zoom) Clifford Stubbs testifying before the Wildlife Board on June 3, 2021 in an effort to get his hunting privileges restored following his conviction in a bear pursuit gone bad.

(Screenshot via Zoom) Clifford Stubbs testifying before the Wildlife Board on June 3, 2021 in an effort to get his hunting privileges restored following his conviction in a bear pursuit gone bad.

Stubbs, who has pursued hundreds of bears in his 22 years in the sport, had never run afoul of wildlife rules before May 19, 2018, when he and Wood chased the female bear in circles. Video Wood shot at the chase’s conclusion shows the barely mobile bear under attack by nine baying dogs. The two-minute clip, which DWR attorneys showed the Wildlife Board, indicates the bear is so spent it can’t move its hind legs as it moans in fear, with the dogs barking and nipping at it. Yet no one is shown in the video trying to restrain the dogs, although Wood can be heard shooing the bear away from a tree it was trying to climb.

Stubbs said he immediately pulled his dogs away from the bear when he arrived on the scene as his companions discussed killing it. He knew that killing the bear would be illegal and would require a report to DWR.

But leaving the bear was not a good option either because the spot was near homes, he said. A curious passerby was liable to get injured if they startled the bear. So Stubbs reasoned the best option was to take the bear to camp, but on Thursday he acknowledged the better move would have been to call DWR for help.

The men put the bear into a box built for dogs, loaded it into a pickup and drove to camp and provided it with water and Gatorade.

Stubbs went home about an hour later while the caged bear was still unresponsive, he told the board. Wood led him to believe the animal recovered and was released later that day without incident. He claimed he didn’t learn of the bear’s prolonged incarceration and second chase until he was criminally charged the following year.(Marion County Sheriff's Office) William "Bo" Wood faces felony charges in Utah for allegedly capturing a black bear during a 2018 hunt that went bad.

(Marion County Sheriff’s Office) William “Bo” Wood faces felony charges in Utah for allegedly capturing a black bear during a 2018 hunt that went bad.

The case came to light after Florida wildlife officials began investigating Wood in response to social media posts depicting what appeared to be illegal bear hunts. They seized his phone which they discovered contained images of a bear confined in a truck registered to Stubbs, according to Utah DWR conservation officers Kody Jones and Adam Wallerstein. The officers testified the phone contain 30 videos showing the Utah bear’s chase, capture and captivity—all of which will likely be used as evidence against Wood at his trial.

Bear hunting and pursuits are two distinct activities in Utah. Hunters bagged 443 bears last year, an increase from 369 bears harvested in 2019, according to DWR data.

Bear chases are the subject of a different permit system in which permits are awarded for spring, summer and fall seasons. Statewide 557 permits were awarded in 2018 and the La Sal Mountains are a popular place in Utah to chase bears.

Under Utah’s hunting regulations, bear pursuers, known as houndsmen, are not allowed to target cubs or mothers with cubs. They may use no more than 16 dogs in a single pursuit, or eight during the summer. Once a bear is treed, it must be allowed a pathway to escape and the pursuit may not be resumed. The spring pursuit season this year ran from April 3 to May 31.

Many aspects of that first pursuit were problematic, but where it crossed the line into criminality was when they put the animal in a box and held it captive, Maynard said.

Ward argued that Stubbs could not have “captured” the bear because if was so incapacitated it could not even walk. But Stubbs had participated in the underlying chase that resulted in the animal’s collapse, and whether the bear could escape was irrelevant, Maynard said.

The agency “places an emphasis on respecting wildlife we hunt. The act of hunting is a form of appreciation for wildlife and the opportunities they provide,” he told the board. “We have rules to preserve our opportunity to hunt and enjoy wildlife. This is not what bear pursuit is about and the longevity of this sport depends on upholding the legal and ethical obligations of houndsmen.”

For his criminal conviction, Stubbs was given a one-year suspended jail sentence, paid $1,500 fine and performed 52 hours of community service.

Wood, meanwhile, faces serious legal jeopardy in Florida, where authorities have seized his dogs and filed charges of racketeering, animal abuse and wildlife violations stemming from a series of illegal bear hunts, some of which Wood allegedly celebrated on social media with video posts showing dogs assaulting prone bears.

Wood is free on bail awaiting trial in Florida, then later in Moab’s 7th District Court.

Austin, Texas, Police Say ‘No Criminal Offense’ in Filmed Beating of Elderly Dog!

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Distressing footage reportedly captured recently at a residence in Austin, Texas, appears to show an evidently elderly and disabled dog being viciously attacked by a woman. In three videos captured on two days, the abuser can be seen violently yanking the leash; lifting the dog by her tail repeatedly while shouting, “Stay up!”; striking her with full-force downward slaps; and punching the animal as she yelps in obvious distress—all in apparent “retaliation” for this poor old dog simply being unable to hold herself up in the backyard.

WARNING: GRAPHIC FOOTAGEhttps://www.youtube.com/embed/bZbDKM2WNYQ?wmode=transparent&rel=0

PETA and our complainant have alerted Austin and Travis County authorities to this situation—providing the sickening visual evidence and the suspect’s address and imploring them to rescue the victim before more abuse transpires.

Unfortunately, authorities have apparently decided that no crime was committed—although Texas’s anti-cruelty statute reads, “A person commits an offense if the person intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly … tortures an animal,” and defines “torture” as “any act that causes unjustifiable pain or suffering.”

Most importantly—where is the dog? Despite vague assurances that she isn’t in danger, officials aren’t saying whether she was removed from the home.

Please politely urge the following officials to provide assurances that the victimized dog has been removed from her abuser:

Austin Police Department
police3@austintexas.gov

Travis County District Attorney’s Office
TCDAPublic@traviscountytx.gov

The Honorable Steve Adler
Mayor of Austin
steve.adler@austintexas.gov

Please also ask members of the Austin City Council to secure for their constituents an update about this dog’s status.

After you’ve e-mailed officials, please comment on their Facebook pages as well—then forward this alert far and wide!

AUSTIN POLICE DEPARTMENT

TRAVIS COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY’S OFFICE

12 crows shot, killed in suspected animal cruelty cases in Mountlake Terrace

https://komonews.com/news/local/im-just-horrified-dozen-disturbing-animal-cruelty-cases-reported-in-mountlake-terrace


by Michelle Esteban, KOMO News ReporterMonday, May 3rd 2021AAPolice believe one person has shot and killed at least a dozen crows in the city. (KOMO)https://imasdk.googleapis.com/js/core/bridge3.453.0_en.html#goog_1072611284Volume 90% Police believe one person has shot and killed at least a dozen crows in the city. (KOMO)

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MOUNTLAKE TERRACE, Wash. — A disturbing rash of suspected animal cruelty cases in Mountlake Terrace.

Police believe one person has shot and killed at least a dozen crows in the city. Authorities said they are very close to recommending charges.

That’s a big relief to the community, because the worry is for the bird’s safety and more.

“I’m scared this guy is going to miss some day and hurt somebody,” said Eileen Wood-Lim outside her Mountlake Terrace home today.

Since February, Mountlake Terrace Police said at least 12 crows have been shot and killed in the city limits – all in the middle of the day.

Two home security videos shared by police and captured by worried residents show the same red truck multiple residents have reported seeing in the areas of multiple shootings. Police identified that same truck and its driver as their suspect.

“You can’t see person very well who’s shooting but you see crow fall out of the sky,” said Commander Pat Lowe referring to one of the videos.https://imasdk.googleapis.com/js/core/bridge3.453.0_en.html#goog_1072611282Volume 90% Authorities are searching for a suspected crow killer in Mountlake Terrace. (KOMO)

He said they believe there could be as many as 20 cases of crow shootings in Mountlake Terrace alone. Twelve are active and there are dozens of other unconfirmed reports on social media in the surrounding areas, from Brier to unincorporated Snohomish said Commander Lowe.

“I’m just horrified,” said Wood-Lim, standing in her driveway. She was home Monday during her lunch break from work.

One of those crows fell to its death March 4 in her driveway. She was home working, heard two shots, a thump and then the loud shriek from a cluster of crows.

“I love crows and to have somebody shooting them and have it happen right in my driveway made me upset,” Wood-Lim said.

Her worry is exactly why Mountlake Terrace Police have worked nonstop to track the crow killer

“If you take someone who will be so brazen do out in broad daylight and shoot out in public that’s pretty scary cause those bullets have to go somewhere,” Lowe said.

Lowe said the same red truck seen outside Eileen’s house on her doorbell camera is the same truck captured in multiple videos by others residents and turned over to police as evidence.

You can’t make out the driver in Eileen’s video but you can see what looks like a long gun. Police think it might be a high caliber pellet gun or even a 22. caliber rifle, but that’s still under investigation.

“It’s not out of the realm of possibilities that if someone is doing that with a crow, and then they’re upset with a pet dog, or pet cat or a child,” Lowe said.

Through an anonymous tip, police tracked down the truck’s owner.

Police said the Mountlake Terrace man agreed to let them see his truck to rule him out as a suspect, but kept rescheduling.

Eventually, Lowe said they found the truck at a nearby dealership and that the man sold it and didn’t tell them. Inside police found possible evidence.

We asked police since they made contact with the man who they consider a suspect, what’s happened with the shootings.

“It’s stopped,” Lowe said. “It’s the main thing we wanted to stop the shootings.”

Police said they are confident the truck’s owner is behind all the crowing killings and they will recommend charges be filed very soon.

Possible charges, may include shooting a firearm in the city and animal cruelty-related charges but police are still determining charges and are working with the state Fish and wildlife agency.

Trapping is torture

By Annoula Wylderich -April 30, 2021 Facebook Twitter

Cover image from Born Free USA “Crushing Cruelty” report released in April.

Trapping is perhaps the most egregious abuse of our wildlife. The targeted animals (and often, untargeted creatures who get caught incidentally) can sit in a trap for up to 96 hours in the state of Nevada without the requirement for trappers to check on them. Don’t bet that every trapper will check after four days, if it isn’t convenient for them.

Reports from the Born Free USA wildlife advocacy organization have exposed the trapping industry and found that the few existing regulations that monitor trapping are often ignored by trappers who leave traps out after the close of the trapping season, continuing to capture animals. There are no authorities present when traps are set or an animal is killed.  

The animals who get caught in these barbaric, archaic devices (conibear, leghold, and snare traps) are helpless as they experience the elements, pain, hunger, thirst, fear and possible attacks by predators. Sometimes they leave behind cubs or pups who are too young to survive on their own.

Oftentimes, a mother will chew off her own limb in a desperate attempt to get back to her young. She will risk blood loss and infection in doing so; and she will be severely hindered for the remainder of her life by the loss of that limb if she does survive.

It’s not uncommon for an animal to become an incidental victim. A Born Free USA investigator speaking with a trapper reported the following:  “In one of [the foothold traps] we find a fox squirrel, caught by both front paws. [The trapper] released the fox squirrel from the trap. Both of its front legs are stripped down to the flesh by the trap. He doesn’t usually use fox squirrel, though others will use the fur, so he lets it go. At the same time he says it probably won’t survive and that seems the case as it limps off slowly.” One can imagine that animal’s agony.

The steel-jaw leghold trap is more commonly used by both commercial and recreational trappers. More than 85 foreign countries have banned the use of this trap, but only a few U.S. states have either banned or severely restricted its use. While a few states have reduced their trap check time to 24 hours, Nevada isn’t among them. The American Veterinary Medical Association, American Animal Hospital Association, World Veterinary Association and the National Animal Control Association have declared leghold traps to be inhumane.

Federal and state wildlife services also kill a staggering number of animals with various trapping devices, in addition to using poison and aerial shooting. These techniques are primarily random and non-selective, which result in the deaths of untargeted animals, as well. Those can include dogs, cats, birds, rabbits, turtles, bears, squirrels, and endangered species. 

In 2017, Nevadans who were polled indicated strong support for the reform of the state’s trapping regulations in order to reduce the suffering of wildlife, and to protect pets and public safety.

In 2019, the Nevada Assembly Committee on Natural Resources, Agriculture, and Mining introduced Assembly Bill 473, which would have banned the use of leghold traps and reduced trap check time to 24 hours. Sadly, there was little progress as it seems that the general public’s wishes are continually ignored in favor of sporting interests in spite of the fact that trappers comprise a minority of Nevada’s population (voters/constituents).

Our representatives should be urged to implement alternative humane methods of animal control; and where trapping is still permitted, to reduce the trap check time to 24 hours and ensure that regulations are enforced.

We should all be on the lookout for hidden traps when hiking with our dogs and report any incidents to local law enforcement and Nevada’s Department of Wildlife (be sure to document).

Those who reside in rural areas are encouraged to post signs and prosecute anyone who sets a trap on private property.

PETA billboard ‘memorializes’ dead hens

https://www.westvalleyview.com/news/peta-billboard-memorializes-dead-hens/article_bbb5a352-a2c7-11eb-80c0-5b260db6ff85.html

  • By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski, West Valley View Executive Editor
  • 14 hrs ago
PETA
PETA’s billboard is at MC 85 between South 223rd and South 221st avenues. Photo by Janelle Hines

PETA erected a billboard near the main office of Hickman’s Family Farms “in memory” of the more than 165,000 birds who were killed in March in a fire at a facility owned by the company.

The billboard, at MC 85 between South 223rd and South 221st avenues, urges anyone upset by the animals’ suffering to take personal responsibility by no longer buying eggs and by going vegan.

“We’re encouraging people who were feeling sympathetic to those birds to take a look at their own actions that are also making those birds suffer on a daily basis,” said Amber Canavan, PETA senior campaigner spokesperson. 

Canavan said PETA watches out for incidents in the news involving animals on farms. 

“That goes for fires and transport trucks,” Canavan explained. “Transport trucks have fairly high incidents of crashes on the way to slaughterhouses, from facility to facility.

“There are least 100 a year. Many are not even reported or make it into the news. Those animals are crammed onto transport trucks, shoulder to shoulder, in there for days without food, water or rest.”

She said the public rarely thinks about animals locked behind closed doors, “out of sight, out of mind.” 

“We want to make sure that they don’t just say, ‘Oh, that’s sad and go on about their day.’ We have the power to help them in many cases by not buying meat, dairy and eggs in the first place.”

PETA’s statement said hens used for egg production are confined to cramped barns, where each bird has no more than a square foot of space. Few farms install smoke detectors or fire-suppression systems. 

PETA notes that going vegan spares animals immense suffering and helps prevent future epidemics and pandemics. SARS, swine flu, bird flu and COVID-19 all stemmed from confining and killing animals for food.

PETA Billboard to Honor Cows Killed in Truck Crash

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For Immediate Release:
April 22, 2021

Contact:
Brooke Rossi 202-483-7382

Green Bay, Wis. – In honor of the 12 cows who were killed when a truck reportedly carrying them to a JBS slaughterhouse overturned at the roundabout of N. Packerland Drive and Highway 29 on Monday, PETA plans to place a billboard near the crash site proclaiming, “See the Individual. Go Vegan.” Some of the 12 died instantly, while others had to be shot dead on the scene after being severely injured.

“Twelve gentle cows died in terror and agony as a result of this crash, and the traumatized survivors were likely hauled off for their throats to be slit and their bodies carved up for food,” says PETA Executive Vice President Tracy Reiman. “PETA’s ad encourages anyone disturbed by the thought of animals suffering on the side of the road or under the slaughterhouse knife to go vegan.”

Cows in the meat industry are often confined to cramped, filthy feedlots without protection from the elements. At the slaughterhouse, workers shoot them in the head with a captive-bolt gun, hang them up by one leg, and cut their throat—often while they’re still conscious.

‘It’s bizarre’: Almost two dozen seals found decapitated along Nova Scotia beaches

https://nationalpost.com/news/its-bizarre-almost-two-dozen-seals-found-decapitated-along-nova-scotia-beaches

‘I was in disbelief … I’ve never seen anything like it’Author of the article:Samantha PopePublishing date:Apr 16, 2021  •  1 day ago  •  4 minute read  •   71 Comments

Kimberly Hayman said she hopes an investigation will get to the bottom of what happened to the headless seals she found along the shores of two local beaches.
Kimberly Hayman said she hopes an investigation will get to the bottom of what happened to the headless seals she found along the shores of two local beaches. PHOTO BY KIMBERLY HAYMAN

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A Cape Breton resident has made a disturbing discovery: Almost two dozen decapitated seals dotting the shores of two beaches.

“I was in disbelief … I’ve never seen anything like it,” said Kimberly Hayman, who’s lived in Dominion, Nova Scotia for three years. “I don’t like to see any animals suffer. I was just really disturbed.”

Former Toronto Maple Leafs GM wins tax battle as judge calls CRA’s position ‘absurd’
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While on a midday stroll along Big Glace Bay’s shoreline on Sunday, Hayman said she and some friends were startled to find 10 headless seals — all with holes in their torsos — sprawled along the pebbly beach. There was no odour and the bodies still looked pretty fresh, she said, with dogs curiously running over to investigate.

Though she said she felt upset by the sight, she didn’t think much else of it. Then the next day, while out on her usual sunrise walk along nearby Dominion Beach, Hayman said she counted 11 more of these decapitated animals and began to wonder what was going on.  

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“I just kept taking pictures because I was thinking, ‘This can’t be normal — that’s 21 in total,’” she said.  

Twenty-one decapitated seals were found along the shores of two Cape Breton beaches, all with a “hole in their torso,” Hayman said.
Twenty-one decapitated seals were found along the shores of two Cape Breton beaches, all with a “hole in their torso,” Hayman said. PHOTO BY KIMBERLY HAYMAN

Fisheries and Oceans Canada confirmed it is aware of the headless seals, though it said Nova Scotia’s Marine Animal Response Society (MARS) is taking the lead on the situation. It’s a familiar incident to the group, as several hundred dead seals were also found washed up near Cape Breton and Sambro shores in April last year. 

In that case, the society’s response co-ordinator told CBC News it didn’t appear like the seals were killed as part of the seal hunt, as their skulls were intact and had not been crushed. This time around, Hayman said she saw no skulls nearby.

Similar issues have also persisted on the west coast of Canada, with headless sea lions found along British Columbia shores instead of seals. Last June, marine mammal zoologist Dr. Anna Hall said she believed decapitated sea lions along eastern Vancouver Island shores were deliberately beheaded by humans, with one incident being filmed on camera.

As for what’s happening on Nova Scotia beaches, Hall said she believes a similar crime may be happening. There appears to be consistencies among the carcasses, she said, reminding her of what she saw last summer on Vancouver Island.

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“The carcasses have a distinct similarity to them,” she said. “While we can’t say definitely that the seals on the east coast have been decapitated by human efforts, it does seem that is a distinct possibility looking at the photographs.”

However, MARS’s executive director and marine mammal biologist Tonya Wimmer said it appears to be a natural occurrence that happens every year to varying degrees, especially when sea ice has not been particularly thick or prevalent.

Though she hasn’t received images of all the seals yet, Wimmer said the holes don’t appear to be man-made, despite people assuming they have been caused by gunshots or other human-related trauma.

“From the images and information we’ve received, many of the holes are where the umbilicus would have been and is likely scavenging by other animals,” she said, explaining how it’s quite common for scavengers to target the area around the belly button, genitals or eyes.

Though there have been different theories about what happened, including that seal heads are being crushed by moving ice, Wimmer said she can’t say for certainty that’s what’s happening this time around.

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“The cause remains unknown,” she said. “(But) for the majority of animals we’ve examined during the incidents we’ve documented, it doesn’t appear to be due to human interactions.”

Hall said she doubts sea ice is to blame.

“I would be very surprised that this many seals would be decapitated by sea ice,” she said. “I’ve never heard of that before. That being said, I’m in Pacific Canada where we don’t have that issue.”

Either way, Hall said it’s disturbing to see that many decapitated seals in one localized region — which she said is cause for suspicion. While she said it could also be a result of shark predation, she said she still believes there might be something more to it.

“The sheer number of animals discovered within such a short time frame — 21 animals in three days — suggests that there is a possibility that those numbers could actually be higher,” she said. “It seems more likely that there is a human element to this, and I would really hope that DFO will take the appropriate steps to determine definitively what the cause of death of these animals were.”

For Hayman, she said coming across these seals was quite an unsettling experience, especially not knowing for sure what happened to them. She added she would hate to see it happen each year.

“I just feel like if this isn’t happening naturally, then what the heck is happening?” Hayman said. “To me, it’s bizarre.”

Motorist, 18, ticketed for intentionally hitting, critically injuring deer with pickup truck in Old Forge

https://www.syracuse.com/outdoors/2021/04/dec-motorist-ticketed-for-intentionally-hitting-critically-injuring-deer-with-his-pickup-truck-in-old-forge.html?fbclid=IwAR3pZksjt2FDcFeYvwRvIteu_7_Q71r0JOQKd-xkH0trrIWktUbJfyl_1aA

[Only ticketed?!!?]

Updated Apr 15, 2021; Posted Apr 15, 2021

A white-tailed deer.

Facebook ShareTwitter Share928sharesBy David Figura | dfigura@nyup.com

An 18-year-old driver in Old Forge was ticketed late last month by state conservation officers for intentionally speeding up his pickup truck, hitting and critically injuring a white-tailed deer.

That incident and other recent incidents below involving state Department of Environmental Conservation officers (ECOs) was reported this week by the DEC.

Intentional Deer Strike – Herkimer County

“On March 31, Town of Webb Police contacted a state Conservation Officer about a deer struck and killed by a vehicle in the village of Old Forge. Multiple eyewitnesses claimed the driver intentionally accelerated his truck toward two deer standing in the road, striking one and dragging it approximately 70 to 100 yards down the road. Due to the extent of its injuries, the deer had to be euthanized, according to wktv.com. An officer accessed video footage from a local business’ security camera that corroborated eyewitness statements. With help from Old Forge Police, ECOs located the truck and driver in the town of Forestport, Oneida County, and found deer hair in the front bumper of the suspect’s truck. After interviewing him and presenting him with the evidence, the driver, Grady Boulier, 18, admitted to accelerating toward the two deer, striking one, and dragging it down the road before stopping. The subject was issued appearance tickets to the Town of Webb Court for Environmental Conservation Law violations of taking deer from a public highway, taking deer while in a motor vehicle and taking deer during the closed season.”