Essays by Robert Fisk, Jr.

Small Steps Can Lead to Big Changes  (January, 2017)

The Moral Arc of the Universe  (December, 2014)

A Look Back on 15 years  (January, 2013)

The Supreme Injustice  (October, 2010)

The Human Connect   (November, 2006)

 

Small Steps Can Lead to Big Changes, by Robert Fisk, Jr.  (Janaury, 2017)

Early stages of any social movement are met with more setbacks than successes, yet we must not be discouraged as persistence and determination are omnipotent. When we lose, we continue to plant the seeds of change in thinking about how we view and treat animals. When we win, it gives us renewed wind to our sails.

In recent years, our resolve has been tested several times. In 2014, animal advocates lost for the second time a referendum to ban the hunting of Maine black bears with the use of bait, hounds and traps.

In 2013, MFOA sponsored “An Act to Make Post Conviction Possession of Animals a Criminal Offense.” This bill would have made owning an animal after conviction of animal cruelty a felony offense, thus creating a much-needed deterrent to further animal abuse. The bill passed in both the House and Senate, but was vetoed by Governor LePage, despite the strong efforts of co- sponsor Sen. Stan Gerzofsky (D-Brunswick) to override the veto.

After a three-year public, media, and legislative campaign, in 2013 MFOA also sponsored “An Act to Prohibit Horse Slaughter for Human Consumption and the Transit of Horses for Slaughter.” This controversial legislation was actively and admirably sponsored by Rep. Gary Knight (R-Livermore Falls), passed in the House, but an effort for a conference committee was defeated by Senate Republicans with the Governor’s lead.

In 2015, MFOA sponsored (in partnership with Maine Citizens Against Puppy Mills) first in the nation legislation to ban the retail sales of dogs and cats in Maine pet shops; 95% of such sales come from out of state puppy mills, often with deplorable conditions. With the lead of our sponsor Rep. Kim Mohegan (D-Cape Elizabeth), the bill passed in the House and Senate, but again was vetoed by the Governor.

This past year, the IF&W proposed increased trapping seasons for bobcats and beavers. Many animal advocates attended the public hearing and introduced strong evidence against such rule changes, yet Commissioner Chandler Woodcock recommended approval of the extended seasons to the Advisory Committee. Not unexpected. DIF&W, the Wildlife Advisory Council, the hunting and trapping lobby, and often legislators of the IF&W Committee are essentially all the same people. They are philosophically, politically, socially, and financially connected. Until animal advocates can meaningfully engage the non-consumptive users
of wildlife (three times as many as sportsmen) to address this dynamic, the advancement of wildlife legislation will continue to be a challenge.

Although the above-noted MFOA bills markedly increased public and legislative awareness and debate, they met a political fate. All these pieces of legislation were important to Maine animals and MFOA invested countless hours, especially given these issues involved simultaneous two-year educational campaigns. Considering the current administrative and legislative environment, we have decided not to introduce new animal protection legislation in 2017. This does not mean, however, that we will not be active in the 128th Legislature. We will, as always, review all legislation affecting Maine animals, support good bills and speak up against bad ones.

We will not be deterred. Animal cruelty perpetrators, horse racing and slaughter, bear hunting in Maine, and puppy mills are issues too cruel in nature to not be re-introduced in the future. The puppy mill bill was first in the nation legislation and almost passed and likely would have with a different administration. We again appeal to our supporters and fellow animal advocates to be patient, understanding that all social causes have stages and changes often come agonizingly slow.

One of MFOA’s original bills - almost 20 years ago - was to increase the penalty for animal cruelty to a felony offense. Initially, it didn’t even make it out of committee. In the next legislature, it got out of committee, but did not pass. We introduced the bill a third time in 2001 and it passed unanimously in committee.

In 2001, after a highly publicized two-year statewide campaign, MFOA submitted controversial legislation to ban circuses with elephants from performing in the state, which culminated with the Maine House of Representatives voting in favor of the legislation by a wide margin of 88-58. It was the first time in the country any similar legislation had passed in any state body. Unfortunately the circus parent company, Feld Entertainment, Inc. hired lobbyists, and the bill was defeated in the Maine Senate.

This past April in Providence, RI, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus scheduled its last performance using elephants and closed altogether this January. The 146-year old tradition, which has been deeply ingrained in our culture, ended, 15 years after MFOA’s ground-breaking state legislation.

The angst and stress we feel in trying to change how man thinks of other species is far less than that of the animals we try to save. It is paramount in our hills and valleys of progress that we never waiver in our unshakable belief that our cause is just, and the pendulum is swinging our way, albeit too slowly.

We only have to remember what we faced 20 years ago, when the challenges were even greater. Two decades of bringing a wide array of injustices done to animals into public view has given us greater knowledge and understanding of issues and challenges we face today. Much wiser, battle tested and in far greater numbers, we organize for future education, advocacy, endeavors and legislation.

 

The Moral Arc of the Universe, by Robert Fisk, Jr. and Don Lopreino  (January 2016)

One truism about history is that much of it is forgotten. Nonetheless, history often becomes relevant to modern causes and concerns in ways we cannot always measure.

During the mid-19th century, Frederick Douglass, William Lloyd Garrison, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Theodore Parker, an American minister of the Unitarian church, were household names and notable figures in the abolitionist movement.

Parker lamented nothing came easy and there was virtually no discernible progress. Nonetheless, he remained optimistic and wrote: “Look at the facts of the world. You see a continual and progressive triumph of the right. I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways; I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice.”

Many years later, the same sentiment, in nearly the exact language, was echoed by Dr. Martin Luther King as part of a sermon he delivered in April 1967: “The moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

Now, in 2015, we can apply that notion of justice prevailing to the efforts of those of us who seek
to improve the treatment of animals. Why? Because the common thread of cruelty links both causes, based on the indifference to the feelings
of fellow humans (slaves) as well as other species (animals), coupled with an attitude of perceived superiority that permits and condones abuse.

It would be misleading as well as untrue to say that Theodore Parker and Dr. King, as well as other prominent figures of other movements, were never discouraged about the lack of progress.
Of course they were, just as we are today when humane measures are voted down or when special interest groups, despite our best efforts, prevail as they did in the 2004 and 2014 bear referendums. Not to be discouraged is not to pay attention; but to give up, to go away, to move on is exactly what our opponents want, just as those who opposed Parker and King hoped for.

In 1848, the first women’s rights convention was held in Seneca Falls, New York. After two days of discussion and debate, 68 women and 32 men signed a Declaration of Sentiments, which outlines grievances and sets the agenda for the women’s rights movement. A set of 12 resolutions is adopted calling for equal treatment of women and men under the law and voting rights.

On August 20, 1920, the 19th Amendment to the Constitution, granting the women the right to vote, was signed, 72 years later.

Today we see that gay rights and legalization of marijuana have reached the critical mass. They, like the animal rights movement, experienced the same uneven progress, but the pendulum of support is swinging our way, albeit much too slowly.

As noted animal advocate Kim Stallwood has written, there are five stages of social movements: public education, public policy, legislation, implementation and public acceptance. Gay rights and marijuana are between stages four and five, animal protection is probably somewhere between two and three.

Being aware of (and having a strong belief in) the inevitable course of history, as Parker pointed out, even though they could see “only a small part of it and cannot calculate the curve” and were unable to “complete the figure by the experience of sight,”

they could “divine it by conscience” and knew they would ultimately prevail. He and others knew that
a step forward might well be fol- lowed by a step back, and while that was certainly demoralizing,

the key was not to give up, not to lose heart. And realize steps to progress are often inadvertently small in nature.

Parker and King also knew
that while the arc bends towards justice its momentum can be increased, it can bend faster with active human involvement. For all their lives, and the lives of so many others who felt the same, they did whatever they could to achieve their

goals and, most importantly, never wavered in their unshakable belief that their causes were just.

If we choose to follow it, a course has been charted, one that has proven effective over time. Donate your energy and talent. Make a financial contribution to support what you believe. Speak out against cruelty wherever you find it. Write letters, send e-mails, use social media to spread the word. Promote legislation that favors animal welfare; oppose legislation that doesn’t. Accept discouragement in stride, but never consider it defeat.

And remember through your actions you are planting seeds, although you may never know when they germinate. You seldom will see measurable progress, like legislation, but as the old saying goes, “persistence and determination are omnipotent” and the more seeds we plant, the more quickly justice comes to our fellow creatures.

 

A Look Back on 15 Years  by Robert Fisk, Jr.  (January 2013)

Over the past 15 years, we have seen a lot happen in animal welfare in Maine. With a marked increase in education and advocacy, animal protection also moved into Maine’s legislative arena. We have seen and advanced many positive changes, as attested to by our second place national rating for animal cruelty laws. We have also experienced disappointing set backs, but through it all has come a major shift and understanding of many animal protection issues that were not even on the radar screen 15 years ago. Equally encouraging is the corresponding level of activism. MFOA alone has 1,500 members and supporters across the state.

In the 1980’s, the state’s Animal Welfare Board was an independent agency where animal welfare was rudimentary, but nonetheless presence. On that board were the early voices for animals: Lawrence Keddy (Maine State Society for the Protection of Animals) and Betty Sawyer of Jonesport. Unfortunately, the state’s Animal Welfare Program (AWP) was a low priority in the Department of Agriculture and things got progressively worse for Maine companion animals. In the late 1990’s, the public’s outcry was overwhelming that the AWP was not doing enough in handling animal cruelty cases.

In 2001, emergency hearings and legislation brought about a revamping of the AWP with new director Norma Worley and an Animal Welfare Advisory Council (AWAC), resulting in significant improvements. AWAC Chairs Anne Jordan, Deb Clark, Christina Perkins and Sharon Secovich worked effectively with the AWP. AWAC is now plagued by poor attendance and too many members who have a financial interest in animals and miss meetings unless there is something on the agenda that affects their interests, which can supersede the mission of animal welfare. The AWP and its humane agents continues to lead the prosecutorial arm to Maine’s animal protection.

In the early 1990’s, Maine’s only animal protection group was the Maine Animal Coalition (MAC), with a dynamic board comprised of Ken Shapiro, Linn Pulis, Toni Fiore, Sue Walker and myself, all of whom remain actively engaged in the cause. MAC continues to provide strong education and advocacy under the direction of Beth Gallie.

The genesis of Maine Friends of Animals (MFOA) in 1997 was in recognizing that there was no comprehensive voice for animals to bring the education and advocacy into legislation, especially in countering special-interest opponents. Bringing protest to policy. A second goal was to emphasize bringing animal welfare, animal protection and animal rights advocates together to be more effective. MFOA has submitted over 50 pieces of legislation in eight legislatures including 11 successful bills improving the lives of Maine’s companion animals, particularly dogs. In addition, it has brought animal protection discussions fully into the legislative realm.

One of MFOA’s most memorable pieces of legislative action was the four-year campaign to ban circus elephants in the state. With an extraordinary effort by a Maine legislator on an animal protection bill, sponsor Rep. Chris Muse of South Portland helped lead the first in the nation passage (84-52 vote in the House) of a ban on circuses with elephants in a state, but the bill was ultimately defeated by the circus lobby in the Senate.

In recent years, national organizations such as the HSUS and the ASPCA have had a state presence, most notably when HSUS and MFOA teamed together on the bear referendum in 2004. Maine’s animal shelters have for a long time engaged and occasionally sponsored legislation led by the well-organized Maine Federation of Humane Societies. And today there are many small groups like Spay Maine and individuals like Barbara Cross and Lynne Fracassi of Scarborough, speaking to municipalities about Maine pet stores that are selling dogs from mid-western puppy mills.

Wildlife issues, although often more egregious in cruelty, are more challenging for animal protection advocates in most states. Maine’s wildlife decisions are made in an unholy alliance between the Department of Inland Fisheries &Wildlife, its legislative oversight committee, and the hunting lobby, all of which are connected politically, ideologically, financially and socially. Despite its close ties, our concerted efforts in confronting trapping, coyote snaring, bear hunting with bait, hounds and traps, and canned hunting has brought significant debate and public awareness to the real nature of these practices.

The pendulum is swinging our way albeit, like many social movements, too slowly. As noted above, the brightest hope for animals is the growth of the activism in the state and all the educational seeds that have been planted over the past 15 years, not only in the legislature, but in the minds of the general public at large and the media. As much as we confront cruelty and affect change, countless Maine animals still are needlessly suffering. The greater the effort we now put into what has been already been done, the sooner we will move our issues into mainstream thinking while continuing to make Maine a leader in animal protection.

 

THE SUPREME INJUSTICE  by Robert Fisk, Jr. (October, 2010)

There is no other animal that inspires more romantic metaphors than the horse. We admire its power and grace with its rare combi- nation of beauty, strength and freedom. Nature smiled and opened a generous hand when she gave man the horse. For millenniums the horse has changed mankind – the ways we travel, trade, play, work and fight wars have all been profoundly shaped by our relationship with horses.

For more than 3,000 years, a warrior on horseback or in a horse- drawn chariot was the ultimate weapon and the millions of horse ‘tank’ deaths changed the balance of power between civilizations. Horses continued to define military tactics well into the 1900s. Horses have cleared forests, plowed land, herded cattle, served as taxis and trucks and pulled trolley cars. By carrying people, goods and ideas between civilizations, horses changed history. Consider also the magnificent athlete of a well-trained horse as equestrian sports entertain throughout the world. And not the least, horses have provided companionship and friendship that only horse lovers have the joy of knowing.

Does not this noble animal deserve only the best from all that it has given and meant to us? Humans’ love and honor to horses is displayed throughout this country and its history. Unfortunately their unparalleled stature and legacy cannot save them from the ultimate disrespect and cruelty of the slaughter house. Each year approximately 1,500 horses are shipped from Maine to two slaugh- ter houses in Quebec. The transport and slaughter are appalling practices that are often kept hidden from the public.

The entire process, including the slaughter auction, the method of transportation, the feedlots, the slaughter plants – everything up to and including their death – is inhumane. Approximately 30% of horses are injured from fighting and poor transportation. Panicked horses are often prodded and beaten off the truck and into the kill-chute. The horses stand in line smelling the blood, sensing and hearing the terror. While in the “kill box” they shake violently, falling, unable to stand from fear ……

The “Unwanted Horses in Maine” article below addresses the issues surrounding unwanted horses in Maine, what has been done, what is being done, and what still needs to be done. But one issue that has no justification is the inhumane slaughter of this magnificent, intelligent, feeling animal that has so faithfully served man for so long, so well and so nobly. Please join us in our effort to legis- latively ban any association with horse slaughter and end Maine’s complicity in this practice.

 

The Human Connect   by Robert Fisk, Jr.  (November, 2006)

There was a front page story last year in the San Francisco Chronicle about a female humpback whale that had become entangled in a spider web of crab traps and lines. She was weighted down by hundreds of pounds of traps that caused her to struggle to stay afloat. She also had hundreds of yards of line wrapped around her body, tail, torso and a line tugging in her mouth. 

A fisherman spotted her just east of the Farralones Islands (outside the Golden Gate Bridge) and radioed an environmental group for help. Within a few hours the rescue team arrived and determined that she was in such severe condition the only way to save her was for them to dive in and untangle her, which was a very dangerous proposition. One slap of the tail could kill a rescuer.

They worked for hours with curved knives and eventually freed her. When she was free, the divers say she swam in what seemed like joyous circles. She then came back to each and every diver, one at a time, nudged and pushed them gently around – she thanked them. Some said it was the most incredibly beautiful experience of their lives.  The guy who cut the rope out of her mouth says her eye was following him the whole time and he will never be the same.    

Too few in society today know or appreciate the degree of “human” qualities many of our fellow species share with us. The whale showed an ability to express joy and gratitude, making a human connect to those 

reading the story. Most do not realize that elephants, dogs, chimpanzees, dolphins and many other animals of a higher level feel a full range   of “human” emotions such as excitement, jealousy, hope, rage, anxiousness, love, fear, grief, loyalty, shame, cockiness, compassion, and peace. And one thing they surely are our equal in is in the ability to feel pain.

In a very informative and compelling article on the human effects on  

elephants worldwide recently published in The New York Times Magazine, some researchers point to a species-wide trauma in the fabric of pachyderm society. The article is entitled, “Are We Driving Elephants Crazy? Their behavior in the wild has grown strange and violent in recent years. Researchers say our encroachment on their way of life is to blame. It provides insight into the wide range of emotions these animals experienced throughout their social structure in their loss of habitat, extreme and brutal poaching, culling and general human activity.  

In MFOA’s four-year effort to end coyote snaring, it was noted that if humans did to a dog what this state allows to happen to a coyote, it would easily be considered aggravated animal cruelty. But when it was observed that their pet dogs were 98% genetically the same animal as a coyote, it made little impression on the committee members hearing the bill. 

The psychological abuse and trauma animals experience that is very similar to that of humans should be emphasized at every opportunity. The more we can put a human face on their plight, the sooner the public empathy will grow in changing how animals are viewed within society. It is one thing to point out that chimpanzees are 98.6% genetically identical to humans, but it is another thing to get people to equate “human” emotions to other species. 

As we find new ways to advance animal protection, it would seem making the human qualities connection and expanding the understanding of the terms “sentient beings” and “speciesism” is a tactic and strategy we should increasingly advance. An elephant sheds tears in grief as humans do. And a whale can display gratitude in ways we may not have thought humanly possible. As we gain greater knowledge of other species, I hope we escalate our efforts to increase the public awareness of the likeness with human emotions and sensitivities. Until then, I think of a bumper sticker I once saw: “Humans are not the only species on the planet, they just act like they are.” 

 

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