Thursday, June 17, 2010

Look for the Leaping Bunny!

Ever since disturbing images of rabbits injured for product testing purposes surfaced a couple decades ago, this animal has come to symbolize ‘Cruelty-Free.’ But what do all these rabbit logos really mean? And what’s to stop companies from creating their own bunny graphic and slapping it on their packaging along with the words ‘Not tested on animals’? Because there is no federal regulation in place for cruelty-free labeling, companies can essentially make any animal testing claims they want. So how is the conscientious consumer able to discern which products are truly cruelty-free?

In an effort to put a stop to the misinformation, leading animal protection groups banded together in 1996 to form the Leaping Bunny Program, administered by the Coalition for Consumer Information on Cosmetics (CCIC). CCIC is comprised of American Anti-Vivisection Society; American Humane Association; Animal Alliance of Canada; Beauty Without Cruelty, USA; Doris Day Animal League; The Humane Society of Canada; The Humane Society of the United States; MSPCA’s Center for Laboratory Animal Welfare; and the New England Anti-Vivisection Society.

The Leaping Bunny Program developed an internationally recognized Leaping Bunny Logo (which is also used by its European counterpart, the European Coalition to End Animal Experiments) along with a single, comprehensive standard that consumers can truly trust.

To become Leaping Bunny certified, a company must agree not to conduct or commission animal testing of any kind after a fixed cut-off date. In addition, the company must get all third-party manufacturers and suppliers to individually agree not to engage in animal testing for its products. This system ensures that a product is scrutinized throughout the entire manufacturing process. In addition, all companies must be open to independent audits to ensure that all of the Leaping Bunny’s cruelty-free standards are upheld. To date, there are over 300 Leaping Bunny certified companies. They range from national brands like Method, Seventh Generation, and Burt’s Bees to small startup companies.

Leaping Bunny has made it easy to shop without cruelty. We publish the Compassionate Shopping Guide, a handy wallet-sized brochure mailed to over 200,000 people annually, which lists all of the Leaping Bunny-certified companies. There is also an iPhone app of the guide as well, available for free through iTunes. Our Facebook page is liked by over 8,500 people and has the largest following of any organization dedicated to ending animal experimentation in the personal care and household products industry. In addition, we are working towards the goal of getting 100,000 people to sign our pledge to go cruelty-free. To take the leap yourself, visit Leaping Bunny.

Thanks to guest blogger Kim Pashen, Marketing Manager for the Leaping Bunny Program

Thursday, April 1, 2010

What if my dog (or cat, or bird, or...) outlives me? Why a pet trust can help.

You may have heard about Leona Helmsley leaving her estate to her dog, Trouble, but you don’t need to be a billionaire to make arrangements for your companion animals.

No one likes to think about preparing for their own death or disability, but those of us who have animals who depend on us should make sure that we prepare for their needs if they should outlive us or if we should become unable to care for them due to serious illness or injury.

Many people make assumptions that family members will care for their animals if they cannot do so themselves, but those arrangements don’t always work out. People sometimes agree to help, assuming they will never actually have to do so. Or they fully intend to be responsible, but life situations change and they cannot fulfill their promises.

Something as serious as the fate of a companion animal – in fact, his/her very life - should not be left to good intentions and verbal agreements. Part of responsible planning for ourselves and our families should be making legal arrangements for our pets – especially those who might be difficult to plan for, such as large long-lived birds, animals with special needs, or pets who might not be allowed in rental housing or for whom homeowners’ insurance is difficult to obtain. Failing to account for these things can leave well-intentioned people in a difficult position and result in the surrender of your pets, against your wishes, to an animal shelter that may not be able to meet their needs and find them a new forever home. On the other hand, careful planning can ensure a happy ending for your beloved pets.

On March 16, 2010, H. 1467 was reported favorably out of the Judiciary Committee and is making its way through the Massachusetts legislature. This bill would allow for legally enforceable trusts to provide for the care of one or more animals if the trust’s creator becomes incapacitated or dies. It would do this by authorizing the creation of an enforceable trust that is established with the pet as the beneficiary, while specifying both a trustee for the trust and a caretaker for the pet. With this legislation, pet owners can be ensured that their wishes and directions regarding their companion animals will be carried out.

Massachusetts’ current law is not sufficient. Forty-two states and the District of Columbia have enacted pet trust laws; Massachusetts is one of only eight remaining states that continue to have no form of pet trust legislation. In Massachusetts, a person can currently only assign the assets of a trust to the caretaker of the pet, and hope that the caretaker uses the assets for the care and maintenance of the pet as intended. Such a trust is not legally enforceable. The alternative means of providing for a pet through a will is also problematic for the same reason and for the delay of providing access to the funds that can accompany the probate process, leaving the pet at risk for lack of care.

More and more people view their pets as family members and are concerned about the welfare of these animals if the animals should outlive them. The increase in veterinary advances now available to companion animals and the advent of pet health insurance for owners to minimize costs has added to the overall health and lifespan of people’s pets. Pets are living longer and are an integral part of their families’ lives. It has been estimated that between 12 and 27% of pet owners include their pets in estate planning. The American Veterinary Medical Association estimates that over 68.7 million households care for a companion animal. In Massachusetts, it is estimated that 33.3% of households live with a cat or dog (MSPCA Dorr Research).

Not infrequently, municipal shelters and animal rescue organizations find that the incapacity or death of an owner results in abandonment, surrender or the inability to care for the pet. This bill would allow pet owners to provide financial resources for the care of their animals in the event of incapacity or death, which benefits the owners as well as the pets. Additionally, the burden placed on municipal shelters and rescue organizations would be eased as pet owners would have a viable, enforceable alternative plan for the care of their animals.

For more information, and to take action on this bill, see

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Helping Animals With Local Ordinances

It’s a busy time of year in our office. We’ve been holding workshops on helping animals through the legislative process and are preparing for Lobby Day for Animals on April 14th. Since we're at the beginning of a new legislative session in the Mass. state legislature, we’ve been speaking to many groups and our Animal Action Team about the legislative process and providing tips on how to help animals through public policy efforts and also how to best influence elected officials. Much of the content of the presentation is based on lessons learned -- one way or another -- over the years.

When doing our workshops, we mention the option for advocates to work on a local level – in their own cities in towns – to change policies that impact animals. While most of the legislation that the MSPCA focuses on is at the state level, citizens can choose to pursue local action in their communities (there are 351 cities and towns in the Commonwealth). The MSPCA Advocacy Department can help by writing letters of support, alerting MSPCA members in the city or town, and sometimes testifying. An ordinance that passed a few nights ago in Pittsfield to protect farm animals has once again demonstrated how local action can work. The new ordinance requires that egg-laying hens, breeeding pigs, and calves raised for veal have enough space to stand up, lie down, turn around, and extend their limbs.

We have analogized taking action at the local level for animals to the process by which the state’s smoking ban in bars, resturants and worksplaces passed in 2004. Prior to the state law, more and more cities and towns passed local smoking bans, which seems to have help make the case for a statewide ban more powerful. We can do the same thing with animal issues. And each time a city or town passes an animal protection measure, more and more people and citizens are understanding the issue – and this includes the legislators representing those municpalities. In fact, advocates are asking the Berkshire legislative delegation to now support a similar state bill, based on Pittsfield's action.

So, what issues have been tackled on a local level? In addition to the above-mentioned farm animal confinement bill (the first of its kind to pass at a local level in the nation), there are others. In Massachusetts, five municipalities have local ordinances that ban the use of wild animals in circuses (Braintree, Revere, Quincy, Provincetown and Weymouth). Somerville residents are currently working to pass one within their borders. At least one town has a law that limits the constant tethering of dogs (East Longmeadow). Years ago, Cambridge enacted an ordinance that governs animals in laboratories and more recently passed a resolution on cage-free eggs. Generally, local laws can be more specific or restrictive than state laws.

One woman I spoke to recently to is working to put a line on dog license applications in her town that would ask people for a voluntary donation to help spay/neuter the animals of residents who can't afford the surgery. Animal advocates have worked consistently to ensure dangerous dogs law aren't breed-specific. And perhaps one of the most important ways to advocate on a local level is to make sure that animal control has adequate funding to help stray and homeless animals.

There may be other things happening for animals in your local city or town hall. Perhaps you have other ideas of what can be done on a local level? If so, drop us a line at We'll post some of the ideas here.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Another News Story Shows Link Between Animal Abuse and Human Violence

The recent story in the Boston Herald, reporting that a kitten, named Tigi, was killed by a husband who was jealous of his wife's attachment to the animal is yet another incident demonstrating the relationship between animal abuse and violence toward humans. The wife filed a restraining order alleging that the husband had also been violent to her.

A few years ago, the MSPCA and Northeastern University published a study showing that people who abuse animals are five times more likely to commit violent crimes. Studies have found that victims of domestic violence will delay or not leave a violent situation because of concerns about what will happen to the family pet. Abusers can use threats to family pets as a means to control and exert power over the victim. Oprah Magazine covered this issue and in an article called "The Case of the Battered Pet."

Now that this link is recognized and documented, there are strategies and programs that have been put in place in many communities to address this cycle of violence. These include animal protection organizations working with human social service programs, municipal and state law enforcement officers working with humane law enforcement, programs to provide temporary foster care for pets of people who are leaving violent situations, and legislation. Both HAVEN and the Link Up Education Network in Massachusetts pursue many of these efforts.

One of the MSPCA's priority bills for the recently commenced 2009-2010 legislative session is a bill, filed by Representative Peter Koutoujian (D-Waltham), that would allow pets to be included in temporary restraining orders issues in domestic violence cases. Similar laws have been passed in a dozen states so far, and many states have bills pending. For more information visit the MSPCA's website.

Contacting your state legislators and urging support of this bill (House Docket # 1553) is a simple step that everyone can take to help both animals and people.