The Feds Poison Far More Cats and Dogs Annually
Professor Deborah Blum in her NYT op-ed, “Who Killed Fido? We all Did,” argues that America’s historic addiction to toxicants ultimately contributed to dogs’ food poisoning deaths. Because agribusiness routinely taints human food crops with dangerous pesticides, it is little wonder the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services blandly kills two to three million animals (including 500 dogs and 1,100 cats) each year for the purpose of agricultural protection. Most are killed with toxicants. Virtually no one complains and the media pay scant attention to this annual national travesty. Blum contends that “our lifestyle also demands innocent victims.” Will people finally take notice if innocent victims are ourselves?
In 1931, Congress passed the Animal Damage Control Act which ordered the Secretary of the Department of Agriculture to “eradicate” and “suppress” mountain lions, wolves, bears, and a whole host of “nuisance” animals. The government’s stepped-up-poisoning campaigns of the 1930s resulted in the extirpation of numerous species including wolves, grizzly bears, prairie dogs, kit and swift foxes, and jaguars.
In the 1930s and 1940s, the American Society of Mammalogists, biologists like Aldo Leopold, and activist Rosalie Edge raised alarm cries—with little avail. Not until 1964 and again in 1971, did Congress hold oversight hearings concerning the wildlife-killing agency, now known as Wildlife Services. As a result of those hearings, some abuses such strychnine poisoning on natural areas were curbed. Today, the killing continues at a staggering rate. In 2004, Wildlife Services killed a record 2.7 million animals, and in 2005, 1.7 million.
In a post 9/11 world, Wildlife Services’s program poses a national security hazard. In 2004, 2005 and 2006, the U.S.D.A. Office of Inspector General released audits revealing that Wildlife Services was not in compliance with the Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act. In 2006, for instance, the Inspector General found that Wildlife Services had not secured access to toxicants from unauthorized persons; individuals using toxicants had inadequate training; and poisons’ inventories were insecure. The Inspector General visited 10 of 75 sites; none were in compliance.
Poisoning wildlife presents a chilling dark side: People and their pets are routinely are harmed by Wildlife Services. Yet, the Environmental Protection Agency, which is charged with controlling predator toxicants, fails to enforce the law.
In February 2006, a dog called Jenna accompanied Sam Pollock on a rabbit hunt in the Utah desert on federal public lands. Sam and Jenna were returning to their truck when a lure, placed on the ground by Wildlife Services, enticed Jenna. She tugged at it and a pellet of sodium cyanide shot into her mouth. Jenna died 90 seconds later. Sam, distraught, draped Jenna’s corpse over his shoulder and carried her out so he could bury her in his back yard. He later complained of a headache and a metallic taste in his mouth to an agriculture agent. Despite his secondary exposure to cyanide as a result of the negligence by Wildlife Services, no enforcement action came.
Sam’s story is hardly unique. In April 2006, another dog in close proximity to its human companion was poisoned by cyanide in Utah, again, on public lands. In 1998, when Paul Wright of Colorado went out to irrigate, his dog died from cyanide on his private land. Both Paul and his 3-year-old daughter were likely exposed to cyanide in that incident. Again, no enforcement action came from the EPA. Paul sued Wildlife Services and won a small settlement.
As Blum rightly points out, living in a pest free world comes at a huge price. It’s time to rethink whether or not all these pesticides are worth their supposed convenience. If we do not pay attention, Wildlife Services, with their aim to make America pest free, may contribute to a national tragedy—who knows how many personal tragedies they create daily? And the dog food scare, in terms of the body count, likely pales in comparison to the numbers of domestic dogs and cats that Wildlife Services kills each year.
In January, Wendy Keefover-Ring petitioned the Environmental Protection Agency asking that it ban sodium cyanide and Compound 1080, two common predator poisons that are also considered chemical warfare agents.