Saturday, July 3, 2010

From Dawn Watch: "The Animals Lose Senator Byrd...."

Guest Editorial:

From: DawnWatch:

The animals lose Senator Robert Byrd, an eloquent voice on their behalf 6/28/10

Today the animals lost one of their most powerful and eloquent voices,Senator Robert Byrd.

Aged 92 and still in office when he died, Byrd was the longest serving member in the history of the US congress.

Byrd's history was dark -- in his twenties he had been a member of the KuKlux Klan. He later called that an albatross he had to bear, and he recentlycommented:"I know now I was wrong. Intolerance had no place in America. I apologized athousand times... and I don't mind apologizing over and over again. I can'terase what happened."Those who have friended me on Facebook know that top of my list of favorite sayings is, "If you can't change your mind, are you sure you still haveone?"

Robert Byrd, thank heavens, changed his mind and opened his heart on the race issue. I read that he attributed that change to the tragic loss of a teenage grandson, and the realization, in the grief that followed, thatpeople of all races love their children. Byrd was also outspoken against the war in Iraq, against runaway governmentspending, and in favor of campaign finance reform, which I have often argued could be the most important legislative issue for the animals, as the strength of the farm and biomedical lobbies bars legislative progress time and again.

As far as I know he never did take a progressive stance on gay rights -- I wish he had lived long enough to shift on that one. And yes, I am sure he would have, as given enough time and opportunity any compassionate person connects the dots and realizes that compassion cannotbe reserved for a specific race, gender, sexual orientation or species.

Most pertinent to this list are Byrd's extraordinary speeches regarding cruelty to animals. I will share some lines below and urge you to go readthe full text, as the speeches are simply beautiful.

Before I go on I will note something that people who have been on DawnWatchfor a while already know -- that this list is not partisan, and that givenour country is almost equally divided I think the least kind and useful thing we could do for the animals is to try to claim their protection aseither a Democratic or Republican issue. (I discuss that issue in somedetail in Thanking the Monkey.)

It is true that Democrats tend to have better voting records on the mainstream animal issues that come up forvotes, but the exceptions are many and sometimes weighty. I think now of conservative Senator Robert Smith (R-NH), who is to date the only person to speak on the senate floor against vivisection, and of the work of Republican Senators John Ensign and Chris Shays on behalf of the animals, to name justa few.

But today we look at and remember Senator Robert Byrd.I will provide links to two speeches with which animal advocates should befamiliar.

After Michael Vick was indicted on dog fighting charges, Byrd gavea knock-out speech about "the scourge" that is dogfighting. And back in 2001 he addressed factory farming with passion, tenderness and his famous eloquence. In his July 2007 speech to the Senate Byrd said:"Dog fighting is a Federal crime, and yet animal welfare officials reportthat dog fighting is more popular today than ever. Shame, shame, shame...

"The depravity of dog fighting is a multimillion-dollar business thatinvolves training innocent, vulnerable creatures to kill -- to kill -- and putting them in a ring to be killed or to kill for the entertainment and/or the profit of their owners and other spectators....

"Undercover investigators who have infiltrated the dog-fighting ring have found blood-soaked dogs with life-threatening injuries that are left to dieas soon as they are no longer able to compete. Undercover investigators havefound dogs with ripped ears, torn lips, genitals dangling from their bodies,eyes swollen shut, and faces riddled with punctures so severe that they were barely able to breathe. How inhuman, how inhuman, how sadistic....

"The training of these poor creatures -- weigh those words -- the training of these poor creatures to turn them into fighting machines is simply barbaric -- barbaric. Let that word resound from hill to hill and from mountain to mountain, from valley to valley across this broad land --barbaric. May God help those poor souls who would be so cruel. Barbaric. Hear me. Barbaric.

Such practices as starvation of the poor animal to encourage malice, and beatings to build endurance are common. It involvesteaching the dog to maul by using smaller animals, such as cats or rabbitsor small dogs as training bait."

Those are just a few paragraphs from a stunning twenty-five minute speech,which ended in Byrd's usual passionate and evocative manner:

"I am confident that the hottest places in hell are reserved for the souls of sick and brutal people who hold God's creatures in such brutal and cruelcontempt. "I yield the floor."

You'll find the full text on line at:

In July 2001, while he was President Pro Tempore of the United States Senate, Byrd gave a lengthy and beautiful speech arguing in favor of farm animal welfare measures. A brilliant politician, he opened by inviting us toconsider our relationship with dogs.

He referred to a story that you may remember from the news, of a woman whose bichon was tossed out on a freewayby an angry motorist. He called it "an act of sheer depravity to seize afluffy, furry, innocent little dog, and toss it onto a roadway, and mostcertainly to be crushed under tons of onrushing steel, iron, glass, andrubber, while its terrified owner, and perhaps other people in other vehicles, watched."

He told the Senate that his own dog, who he called "Billy Byrd," was a "keypart of our lives at the Byrd House." He then shared the summation of a lawyer prosecuting the shooting of a hunting dog back in 1869. I urge you to read that summation. It is part of the speech I link to below and it i slovely. He returned to the tale of the woman whose bichon was tossed onto thefreeway. Then he segued into the issue at hand:

"Mr. President, I am concerned that cruelty toward our faithful friend, thedog, may be reflective of an overall trend toward animal cruelty. Recentnews accounts have been saturated with accounts of such brutal behavior...."Our inhumane treatment of livestock is becoming widespread and more andmore barbaric. Six-hundred-pound hogs--they were pigs at one time--raised in2-foot-wide metal cages called gestation crates, in which the poor beastsare unable to turn around or lie down in natural positions, and this waythey live for months at a time."On profit-driven factory farms, veal calves are confined to dark woodencrates so small that they are prevented from lying down or scratching themselves. These creatures feel; they know pain. They suffer pain just as we humans suffer pain.

"Egg-laying hens are confined to battery cages. Unable to spread theirwings, they are reduced to nothing more than an egg-laying machine."

Last April, the Washington Post detailed the inhumane treatment oflivestock in our Nation's slaughterhouses. A 23-year-old Federal lawrequires that cattle and hogs to be slaughtered must first be stunned,thereby rendered insensitive to pain, but mounting evidence indicates thatthis is not always being done, that these animals are sometimes cut,skinned, and scalded while still able to feel pain."

A Texas beef company, with 22 citations for cruelty to animals, was found chopping the hooves off live cattle. In another Texas plant with about twodozen violations, Federal officials found nine live cattle dangling from anoverhead chain. Secret videos from an Iowa pork plant show hogs squealingand kicking as they are being lowered into the boiling water that willsoften their hides, soften the bristles on the hogs and make them easier toskin.... The law clearly requires that these poor creatures be stunned andrendered insensitive to pain before this process begins.

Federal law is being ignored. Animal cruelty abounds. It is sickening. It is infuriating.Barbaric treatment of helpless, defenseless creatures must not be toleratedeven if these animals are being raised for food--and even more so, more so.

"Byrd proposed a provision that would improve the USDA inspection system, and said:

"I realize that this provision will not stop all the animal life in theUnited States from being mistreated. It will not even stop all beef, cattle,hogs and other livestock from being tortured. But it can serve as an important step toward alleviating cruelty and unnecessary suffering by these creatures."

He ended his speech with powerful quotes from the Bible -- as was his way.

Regardless of the impact of the provision, we should not underestimate the impact, conscious or other, on the minds and hearts of the members of Congress who listened to the Senate's most powerful member argue passionately and persuasively that animals matter -- all animals, not just dogs.

Byrd's voice opened the door for future debate on all issues of animal captivity and suffering. He elevated their stance by deeming their issuesworthy of representation on the Senate floor.

Please do pour yourself a cup of tea or glass of wine, sit back, and read the poignant and powerful speech, which you'll find on line at Then, as all papers will tomorrow carry news of Senator Byrd's passing, in his honor, and for the animals, please send a letter to your local editor about this sweet and important part of his legacy.

You can take the opportunity to share a few thoughts on dog fighting or factory farming and slaughterhouses, issues about which he spoke so eloquently.

Almost allanimals raised for food in the US are raised under the conditions Byrd described -- that includes egg laying hens and dairy cows whose babies are carted off to those torturous veal crates. And those few raised under betterconditions do not escape the slaughterhouses.

So we also have here a perfect opportunity, in our letters about Senator Byrd's legacy, to advocate for much needed changes in the standard American diet -- more plant based eating. It is usually easy to find the correct address for a letter to your editoron the "contact us" tab on your paper's website, or with a quick call toyour paper. And many of the smaller papers publish close to 100% of lettersthey receive. So why not take this opportunity to put in some good words forthe animals, in honor of somebody who said so much, so beautifully, on theirbehalf? Always include your full name, address, and daytime phone number when sending a letter to the editor. Remember that shorter letters are more likely to be published. Please also post animal friendly comments on websites covering SenatorByrd's death. The animals need your voice -- particularly having just lost his.

Yours and the animals',

Karen Dawn

(DawnWatch is an animal advocacy media watch that looks at animal issues inthe media and facilitates one-click responses to the relevant media outlets.You can learn more about it, and sign up for alerts at You may forward or reprint DawnWatch alerts only if you do so unedited -- leave DawnWatch in the title and include this parenthesized tag line.)

Please go to to learn about Karen Dawn's book,"Thanking the Monkey: Rethinking the Way we Treat Animals," which was chosen
last year by the Washington Post as one of the "Best Books of The Year!"


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