Their Turn - The Social Justice Movement of Our Time Their Turn - The Social Justice Movement of Our Time

Protesters Confront Belmont Stakes Horse Racing Fans

June 9, 2021 by 10 comments


The News

Horse racing fans wore more than just fancy hats and preppy blazers to the 2021 Belmont Stakes. As they walked past dozens of animal rights activists staging a protest at the main gate, they also wore blinders to avoid the images and messages on the posters. As one man said with a touch of guilt in his voice, “Let me just enjoy the horse race.”

The three hour protest, organized by the Albany-based advocacy group Horseracing Wrongs, generated mainstream TV and radio news coverage, so the messages about animal cruelty reached a mainstream public that is increasingly disenchanted with horse racing due to the spate of deaths reported in recent years. At Belmont Park alone, over 500 horses have died since 2009.

ABC News and other mainstream media outlets reported on the large protest at Belmont Stakes.

According to Patrick Battuello, the director of Horseracing Wrongs, the horses are victims of abuse for their entire lives. “They are torn from their mothers at birth. Their bodies are pounded years before they are done forming. They’re confined in stalls for over 23 hours a day. They’re socially isolated in spite of the fact that they’re herd animals. They’re drugged, doped and beaten with whips. They’re bought, sold and traded like inanimate objects. The vast majority of horses who don’t die on the tracks are killed in a slaughterhouse.”

Animal rights activists protesting the Belmont Stakes horse races confront patrons who put on their blinders while walking through a sea of images of horse racing cruelty

Support for a ban on the horse racing industry began to take hold in the mainstream public in 2018 and 2019 after 35 horses died over the course of a few months at the Santa Anita racetrack. At the time, the editorial board of the Los Angeles Times wrote, “Over time, Americans have to decide how much death they are willing to tolerate in this ancient sport.” Since then, both The Washington Post and The Philadelphia Inquirer have published editorials calling for an end to the horse racing industry.

In 2020, The Washington Post and The Philadelphia Inquirer published editorials calling for an end to the horse racing industry

While speaking to reporters during the protest at Belmont Park, activists made another case for a ban on horse racing: New York gives Belmont Stakes and other race tracks across the state over  $220 million in taxpayer subsidies. Edita Birnkrant, the Executive Director of NYCLASS, said her organization is part of coalition of advocacy groups calling on state lawmakers to end the handouts and redirect the money to more worthy causes. “We want to defund horse racing,” said Birnkrant. “Our tax dollars should be used for healthcare or eduction, not for corporate welfare.”

The vast majority of horses who don’t die on the track are shipped to Canada or Mexico to be slaughtered.

Starting in mid-July, Horseracing Wrongs will stage protests at the Saratoga Race Track in Saratoga Springs, New York.


Animal Rights Activists Protest HSUS Over Cruel Conditions at Project Chimps

June 2, 2021 by 15 comments


The News

Animal rights activists in New York City staged a sixth protest at Upper East Side home of Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) board member Sharon Lee Patrick over the mistreatment of animals at its Project Chimps sanctuary in Georgia. The #ChimpsDeserveBetter protests, which have also been staged in Los Angeles, San Francisco and The Hamptons, are part of a nationwide campaign to compel HSUS to transform Project Chimps from a chimpanzee warehouse into a true sanctuary. At Project Chimps, the 77 chimpanzees are held in concrete enclosures for all but about 10 hours per week.  Advocates argue that the chimpanzees, who spent up to several decades locked up in laboratories, should have access to an outdoor habitat every day.

The protest marked the one year anniversary of a lawsuit that Project Chimps filed against two whistleblowers who came forward publicly with extensive evidence of animal cruelty, including the absence of skilled veterinary care, poor safety protocols, substandard facilities, infrequent access to the outdoor yards, overcrowding and rushed introductions.

Whistleblower Lindsay Vanderhoogt writes about being sued by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) sanctuary Project Chimps after coming forward publicly with evidence of animal cruelty

Protests organized by animal rights groups at the homes of HSUS board members in New York and California triggered Project Chimps to drop the lawsuit two months after filing it.  Nevertheless, the whistleblowers had to raise $30,000 to cover their legal expenses.

Animal rights activists with Progress for Science protest HSUS board Member Steven White over poor animal welfare conditions at Project Chimps

In recent weeks, activists working on the #ChimpsDeserveBetter campaign have turned their attention to the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries (GFAS), an organization that accredits animal sanctuaries that meet its rigorous standards. Confused about why GFAS accredited a sanctuary that doesn’t meet many of its standards, the activists researched the relationship between GFAS and HSUS and discovered several conflicts of interest.

Just five of the 236 acres at HSUS sanctuary Project Chimps serve as outdoor habitats for the 77 chimpanzees

Since 2007, many people who have worked at GFAS or served on its board have been affiliated with HSUS. One of the GFAS founders was the Chief Operating Officer of HSUS, and another served as treasurer of a political action committee founded by HSUS. Today, these individuals serve on GFAS’s Board of Directors. A Senior Vice President at HSUS also serves on the board, and an HSUS employee works at GFAS. In addition, one of the GFAS employees who inspected Project Chimps in 2020 is a former HSUS employee. HSUS also provides financial support to GFAS, according to GFAS’s 2018 and 2019 annual reports. Advocates assert that GFAS cannot make unbiased assessments of an HSUS sanctuary if it is comprised of people affiliated with HSUS; is partially funded by HSUS; and has administrative ties to HSUS.

How can GFAS independently assess a sanctuary operated by an organization funds it?

On May 10th, 2021, Donny Moss of TheirTurn sent a letter to the President of the Board of Directors of GFAS to express his concerns about the conflicts of interest and to ask GFAS to enforce its own standards in order to improve chimpanzee care.

On May 13th, the Chairman of the Board responded to Moss’s letter.  “We are involved and working with Project Chimps. I’m at least guardedly optimistic that GFAS will have more forthcoming related to Project Chimps that we can speak to publicly within a week or so.”

In addition to grass roots animal rights organizations, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) have publicly called on HSUS to improve animal welfare conditions at Project Chimps. In several letters to HSUS CEO Kitty Block, NhRP has asked that Project Chimps provide their chimpanzee clients Hercules and Leo with daily access to the outdoor habitats.

In March 2021, the Nonhuman Rights Project asked its supporters to call on HSUS CEO Kitty Block to provide their clients, Hercules and Leo, with daily access to the an outdoor habitat

HSUS has ignored NhRP’s request, and, in its public statements, asserts that the chimpanzees have daily access to the outdoors on  “porches.” Advocates argue that the porches, which are concrete enclosures with a view of the outdoors, are not outdoors.

HSUS claims that the 77 chimpanzees at Project Chimps have daily access to the outdoors on “porches”

The #ChimpsDeserveBetter campaign organizers have vowed to continue advocating for the chimps until HSUS acknowledges the welfare problems and demonstrates that it is addressing them. On June 13th, the animal rights group Progress for Science is staging a protest at the home of HSUS board Member Steven White in Santa Monica, California.

The Southampton Press published a story about one of the protests targeting HSUS board member Brad Jakeman

In order for HSUS to uphold the mission of Project Chimps “to provide lifelong exemplary care” to the chimpanzees in its care, it must do the following:

  1. Begin constructing additional yards on its 236 acre forested property so that the chimps have access to the outdoors every day instead of every third day.
  2. Rotate two groups of chimps (instead of one) into each of the two yards every day (one group in the morning, and the other in the afternoon) so that the chimps have access to the outdoors between 4 and 5 times each week.
  3. Hire an Executive Director who has chimpanzee experience; who instinctively prioritizes the welfare of the animals and who has the respect of his or her peers in the primate sanctuary community.
  4. Hire a veterinarian and vet tech who have chimpanzee expertise.
  5. Appoint two people to Board of Directors of Project Chimps who have captive chimpanzee experience and are willing and able to function independently from HSUS

At Project Chimps, an HSUS sanctuary, the 77 chimpanzees languish in concrete enclosures for all but a few hours once every three days


Activists Stage “Eating Animals Causes Pandemics” Rally in NYC

May 2, 2021 by 7 comments


The News

On May 1st, dozens of conservationists and animal rights activists staged a rally in Times Square to help members of the public connect the dots between eating animals and pandemics. Their message was simple: “Eating Animals Causes Pandemics.” The New York City rally was one of approximately 60 that took place in 20 countries around the world in support of International Pandemic Outreach Day.

The Eating Animals Causes Pandemics campaign is a collaboration among animal rights, environmental, conservation and religious organizations. It emerged as a result of the outbreak of COVID-19, which is believed to have jumped to humans in a live animal market in China. Like many of the pandemics that preceded it, including the catastrophic Spanish Flu of 1918, COVID-19 is a zoonotic disease — one that is transmitted to humans from a non-human animal.

On International Pandemic Outreach Day, advocates in New York City spoke to hundreds of pedestrians whose attention they captured with their hazmat suits and posters. Most were not aware that outbreaks of avian flu, swine flu and a human version of mad cow disease are caused by our consumption of chickens, pigs and cows.

Factory farms are a breeding ground for infectious diseases, which could easily spread among the animals and, if zoonotic, to humans

The COVID-19 pandemic shined a global spotlight on the infectious disease risks associated with live animal markets, but zoonotic diseases can – and do – emerge in factory farms, slaughterhouses and any other setting where animals are intensively confined and/or slaughtered for human consumption. Dr. Michael Gregor, the author of Bird Flu: A Virus of Our Own Hatching (2016) has said, “If you actually want to create pandemics, then build factory farms.”

Conservationists and animal rights activists staged a rally in Times Square to raise awareness about the connection between eating animals and pandemics


Does a Conflict of Interest Explain why GFAS Accredits a Great Ape Sanctuary that Doesn’t Meet its Standards?

April 28, 2021 by 8 comments


The News

In early 2020, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) asked the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries (GFAS) to investigate detailed allegations of animal mistreatment at Project Chimps, a Humane Society (HSUS) sanctuary in Georgia that is home to 77 chimpanzees. Whistleblowers working at the sanctuary had contacted PETA after Project Chimps leadership dismissed their animal welfare and safety concerns, including the absence of skilled veterinary care, poor safety protocols, substandard facilities and infrequent access to the outdoor yards. They alleged that these and other conditions do not meet GFAS’s standards for accreditation.

Click image to see GFAS standards for great ape sanctuaries

In response to PETA’s complaint, GFAS conducted an inspection at Project Chimps in February 2020. Instead of showing up unannounced, the inspectors scheduled their visit in advance and spent just one day at the sanctuary. While on site, they did not review the medical records of the chimpanzees, many of whom had serious underlying conditions that were not being monitored or treated. 

Despite requests from advocates and other stakeholders, GFAS refused to release the highly-anticipated inspection report. The only information made available to the public was a list of seven recommendations and a commitment by Project Chimps to fulfill them by August 1, 2020. 

GFAS’ perfunctory inspection (reminiscent of the USDA inspections that HSUS has criticized for years), the decision to uphold Project Chimps’s accreditation and the lack of transparency around the report beg many questions:

  1. If Project Chimps does not meet several of the standards set by GFAS for great ape sanctuaries, then why does GFAS accredit it?
  2. If sanctuaries are going to leverage their GFAS accreditation for fundraising and promotional purposes, then shouldn’t donors, advocates, scientists and other stakeholders have access to GFAS’s inspection reports?
  3. Why should the public give credence to the “GFAS-accredited” claim made by any sanctuary when at least one of the accredited sanctuaries falls far short of meeting GFAS’s standards?
  4. If GFAS’s recommendations were implemented by August 2020 (which would suggest that Project Chimps was in compliance with GFAS standards), then how does GFAS explain the D grade that primatologist Steve Ross gave Project Chimps on its welfare management programs three months later? 

In March 2021, GFAS conducted another inspection at Project Chimps after two chimpanzees died. Again, it has not released the report.

GFAS Standards for Accreditation

GFAS sets specific standards that great ape sanctuaries must meet in order to receive its coveted accreditation. Project Chimps doesn’t meet many of these standards. Two whistleblowers who worked at the sanctuary documented 21 examples on HelpTheChimps.org, a website they created after Project Chimps and HSUS repeatedly dismissed their pleas for reform.

Whistleblowers documented 21 examples of how Project Chimps failed to meet GFAS standards for great ape sanctuaries. Click the illustration to see the examples and the specific GFAS standards they violate.

Following are two examples:

Veterinary Care: According to GFAS, a great ape sanctuary must have “a written veterinary medical program, including long term preventative medical protocols and disease surveillance and containment procedures, that is developed and carried out under the supervision of a licensed veterinarian who has training or experience in providing medical care for the ape and other species housed at the sanctuary, and who is aware of any specific issues with the health of the apes at the sanctuary.”

Project Chimps doesn’t meet any of these criteria. From early 2017 to mid-2020, the sanctuary employed a veterinarian who had no primate experience and who put no protocols in place to monitor underlying conditions. In addition, he routinely disregarded serious and, in some cases, life-threatening symptoms. Project Chimps replaced this veterinarian in August 2020, but he is back at the helm because the new veterinarian left the organization in March 2021. 

Project Chimps does not meet GFAS standards for veterinary care at a great ape sanctuary

Access to the Outdoors: At GFAS-accredited sanctuaries, “great apes are provided sufficient opportunity and space to move about freely and rapidly, and to exercise choice in location so as to reduce stress and maintain good physical condition. Great apes are able to enjoy lives that are as close as possible to that of their wild counterparts.”

Project Chimps does not meet these criteria. The chimpanzees have access to an outdoor yard once every three days for a few hours, weather permitting. For the rest of the time, they are held in concrete rooms. In a letter to GFAS, the director of another primate sanctuary wrote, “Clearly there are too many chimpanzees at Project Chimps if their time outdoors is limited and has to be shared. No chimpanzee should be expected to live without a choice of habitat.” 

Conditions at Project Chimps fall short of the standards set by GFAS for great ape sanctuaries

The whistleblowers assert that the absence of expert veterinary care and the lack of daily access to the outdoors should, in and of themselves, compel GFAS to rescind Project Chimps’s accreditation. Instead, GFAS ignores its own standards. Why? 

GFAS’s Conflict of Interest 

GFAS has a conflict of interest that compromises its ability to objectively assess Project Chimps, much less rescind its accreditation for failing to meet GFAS standards. This conflict of interest spans the 14 years since GFAS was founded. In fact, it was HSUS that registered the GFAS website in 2007.

HSUS owns the domain name for GFAS, which suggests an administrative relationship between the organizations.

Since 2007, many people who have worked at GFAS or served on its board have been affiliated with HSUS. One of the GFAS founders was the Chief Operating Officer of HSUS, and another served as treasurer of a political action committee founded by HSUS. Today, these individuals serve on GFAS’s Board of Directors. A Senior Vice President at HSUS also serves on the board, and an HSUS employee works at GFAS. In addition, one of the GFAS employees who inspected Project Chimps in 2020 is a former HSUS employee.

HSUS also provides financial support to GFAS, according to its 2018 and 2019 annual reports.

How can GFAS objectively assess a sanctuary that is operated by an organization that funds it?

If GFAS is comprised of people affiliated with HSUS; is partially funded by HSUS; and has administrative ties to HSUS, then how can it make unbiased assessments of an HSUS sanctuary? 

This conflict of interest explains why GFAS continues to accredit Project Chimps despite the fact that it fails to meet many of its standards for great ape sanctuaries. 

Roxy, Linsdsey and the 75 other chimpanzees at Project Chimps have access to the outdoor yards for a few hours every third day. For the rest of the time, they are held in concrete enclosures

On a final note, the whistleblowers, grass roots activists and national organizations advocating on behalf of the chimpanzees at Project Chimps know that running a great ape sanctuary is expensive, laborious and uniquely challenging. No one is asking for perfection, but HSUS does have the resources to bring Project Chimps up to GFAS standards. It is choosing not to. 


HSUS’s Chimpanzee Debacle

April 6, 2021 by 13 comments


The News

In June 2020, I posted an article entitled “Why I’m Blowing the Whistle on HSUS” in order to raise awareness of the plight of chimpanzees at two sanctuaries run by the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) – Project Chimps in Georgia and Second Chance Chimpanzee Refuge in Liberia. Both are plagued by substandard facilities, deficient veterinary care and unqualified management. At Project Chimps, the residents are held in concrete rooms for all but about 10 hours a week because HSUS has not created enough enclosed yards on its “236-acre wooded habitat” to be able to provide the 77 chimps with daily access to the outdoors. Instead of acknowledging and fixing these serious, systemic problems, HSUS has used its PR machine to minimize them or deny that they exist. It has also used its lawyers to silence and intimidate those who speak out.

Precious, a chimpanzee at Project Chimps

In May 2020, HSUS inadvertently shined a national spotlight on Project Chimps by suing two women who came forward with credible and extensive evidence of animal neglect. Appalled that HSUS would sue whistleblowers (an intimidation tactic typically associated with big animal ag), animal advocates around the country, including several with expertise in captive primate care, stepped in to support the whistleblowers and amplify their calls for reform at Project Chimps.

Project Chimps, an HSUS sanctuary, sued former employees Crystal Alba and Linsday Vanderhoogt after they came forward publicly with evidence of animal cruelty

Despite not having visited Project Chimps, I believed the whistleblowers – not only because of the evidence they provided, but also because I saw the same problems during my two visits to HSUS’s chimp “sanctuary” in Liberia. There, HSUS is overseeing the care of over 60 ex-lab chimpanzees who the New York Blood Center (NYBC) moved to islands on a river when they no longer needed the chimps for experiments. Despite having received a $6 million check from NYBC in 2017 and hundreds of thousands of dollars in large and small donations from the public since 2015, HSUS has not built any desperately needed infrastructure on the islands.

National Geographic published an in-depth story that corroborated their allegations.

In October 2020, The Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP), an organization of animal rights lawyers who represent captive chimpanzees and elephants, took the unusual step of issuing a public statement calling on HSUS to improve animal welfare at Project Chimps. NhRP was particularly distressed by the fact that Hercules and Leo, chimpanzees who they freed from a laboratory, did not have daily access to the outdoor habitat. HSUS dismissed their concerns, arguing that the concrete porches where they spend their days are outdoors.

HSUS claims that the 77 residents of Project Chimps have daily access to the outdoors, but advocates believe this is misleading because the “porches” are enclosed concrete rooms

The Nonhuman Rights Project issued a public statement demanding that Project Chimps provide its clients, Hercules and Leo, with daily access to the outdoors

On March 21st, NhRP marked the three year anniversary of Hercules’ and Leo’s arrival at Project Chimps by issuing another public statement, this time asking its global network of supporters to call on HSUS CEO Kitty Block to provide Hercules and Leo with daily access to the outdoors. NhRP and PETA, which also issued a statement, must have agonized about publicly criticizing another animal advocacy group, but, by repeatedly dismissing the concerns they raised in private, HSUS left them with no choice.

The Nonhuman Rights Project is asking its supporters to call on HSUS CEO Kitty Block to give the chimpanzees the choice to spend their days in the forested habitat

Primate community stakeholders (sanctuary directors, primatologists and veterinarians) are aware of the systemic failures at Project Chimps, but they have not spoken out publicly. That can be attributed to a desire to avoid infighting or, more likely, to a fear of retaliation. HSUS is well known in the animal advocacy community for using its resources to intimidate and silence its critics. It used its lawyers at Seyfarth Shaw LLP, a global law firm with 12 offices in the U.S., to represent Project Chimps in its lawsuit against the whistleblowers. (HSUS ultimately dropped the suit, but not before the whistleblowers spent $30,000 on legal fees, a very large sum for young people earning a modest sanctuary salary.)

Fear of retaliation also helps to explain why former Project Chimps employees, who bonded with the chimpanzees, have been silent for the last year. Their fear of violating their termination agreements, however, could be outweighed by their desire to help the chimps.

The Nonhuman Rights Project is calling on The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) to provide its clients, Hercules and Leo, with daily access to an outdoor yard.

A conflict of interest could also explain why stakeholders in the primate sanctuary community have been silent. Many receive monetary and/or non-monetary support from HSUS that they cannot afford to turn down.

Since writing my first article about the plight of the chimps in HSUS’s care, advocates have asked me why HSUS, an organization whose mission is to protect animals, is failing the animals in their own care. I can only surmise, based on my experience at its chimpanzee sanctuary in Liberia, that HSUS doesn’t want to spend the money to transform Project Chimps into a real sanctuary. This frugality is inexcusable not only because of HSUS’s considerable wealth, but also because the organization has raised millions of dollars off of the plight of captive chimps.

The 77 chimpanzees at Project Chimps have access to an outdoor habitat for approximately 10 hours per week. They spend the remainder of their days in concrete porches that HSUS and Project Chimps describe as “outdoors”

Over the past several months, outside inspections that revealed serious deficiencies have left HSUS with no choice but to publicly acknowledge problems at Project Chimps in Georgia, but the organization has downplayed the problems as minor. If HSUS were to acknowledge the seriousness of the problems, then it would be forced to make the necessary investments and to acknowledge that the whistleblowers who they sued were right all along.

Continued public pressure will ultimately compel HSUS to fix the systemic failures at Project Chimps, but shouldn’t HSUS have wanted to live up to its promise to provide a “great home for retired chimpanzees” in the first place?

Progress For Science, a Los Angeles-based animal rights group,  protests at the Santa Monica home The Humane Society of the United States board member Steven White over the mistreatment of animals at its Project Chimps sanctuary

In order for HSUS to uphold the mission of Project Chimps “to provide lifelong exemplary care” to the chimpanzees in its care, it must do the following:
  1. Begin constructing additional yards on its 236 acre forested property so that the chimps have access to the outdoors every day instead of every third day.
  2. Rotate two groups of chimps (instead of one) into each of the two yards every day (one group in the morning, and the other in the afternoon) so that the chimps have access to the outdoors between 4 and 5 times each week.
  3. Hire an Executive Director who has chimpanzee experience; who instinctively prioritizes the welfare of the animals and who has the respect of his or her peers in the primate sanctuary community.
  4. Hire a veterinarian and vet tech who have chimpanzee expertise.
  5. Appoint two people to Board of Directors of Project Chimps who have captive chimpanzee experience and are willing and able to function independently from HSUS.