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Presidential Fireside Chat #9

Welcome to our ninth “Fireside Chat,” a special forum for special friends of American Humane, which we launched in order to share news about the state of the world’s animals during the global pandemic, and discuss how we can protect and improve life for animals living in every corner of the Earth.

During his 12 years in office, Franklin Delano Roosevelt brought millions together through his famous “Fireside Chats” to fight two formidable foes: The Great Depression and then World War II.

He realized that in order to achieve victory over these threats, he not only had to bring the country together for a common purpose, but he had bring together the best experts, the best people, and the best minds to serve the country and the American people’s interests.

At American Humane, we operate in the same way, working to bring global consensus and cooperation, but also the world’s very best experts, the best people, and the most passionate advocates who can help us successfully deliver on our vital mission to protect animals.

I am so pleased to have three of the most remarkable voices – and forces – for animals with us today to talk about the challenges facing Earth’s creatures, what we can do about them, and what we, together, will be doing to make a difference.

It is my pleasure to welcome to Fireside Chat to introduce you to one of the world’s most famed zoological experts, Brad Andrews….

Top veterinarian and animal health expert Dr. Tom Edling….

And one of America’s leading philanthropists and well-recognized advocates for animals, Jean Shafiroff.

Jean Shafiroff is a renowned philanthropist, widely quoted animal advocate, and a National Ambassador for American Humane. Jean has now stepped forward to lead the effort to help millions of animals during the COVID-19 crisis by becoming the national spokesperson for our “Feed The Hungry” campaign.

This vital campaign has already delivered support to feed nearly 400,000 shelter animals across the country in just the past few weeks, and Jean is now lending her name and her powerful advocacy to push that number to more than one million.

Jean, I don’t know how to thank you enough, but you should know that with your help, hundreds of thousands of animals in very dire conditions will have food, medicine, comfort and kindness – some, for the first time in their lives.

I want to extend our gratitude and ask you about what you are seeing in your work, what kinds of impacts on animals have you observed as a result of the pandemic, and how you and the animals you love are responding to these extraordinary times.

Jean Shafiroff:  Thank you very much, Robin. And I want to thank all of you who have been involved in this campaign. This is extraordinarily important. And for me, this is a great honor to be involved. And just so that you know a little bit about me and my family, we have five rescue dogs. And these dogs give us great, great love. When you bring an animal into your family, you know that you bring unconditional love into your family. And so right now what we’re seeing across the United States is a situation that absolutely has to be rectified. I believe that American Humane is the group that can do this. What we’re seeing is that many of the shelters don’t have the money to put food on the table for the animals in the shelter. So many of the shelters are struggling financially.

American Humane has stepped to the plate to help with this terrible, terrible situation. It’s a great honor for all of us to be part of this campaign to change the situation so that no animal in the United States goes hungry. Right now, we’re seeing massive food lines at food pantries. Well, it is the same at the animal shelters. The animals, many of them don’t have the food. Right now, American Humane has delivered 390,000 meals, but we need to get to over one million. And so how do we do this? Very simply, all of us can participate by opening up our hearts and by giving a donation. For those of you who feel well, my donation is not going to make a difference, never feel that way. Even a small donation, $10, $15, $25, $50, or $100 together collectively can make a massive, massive difference. And we can achieve this goal. And we will achieve this goal.

Now of course, for the major donors, anyone who has the ability to write a check for $10,000, $25,000, $100,000 or even a million dollars, you will be making a massive difference. What do you think Robin? Can we do this?

Robin Ganzert: Oh Jean, we can do this. And together I know we’re going to do this. The animals are in such desperate need. And Jean, you and I have been talking much over the past week about the high unemployment number, how there’s the possibility of many pets being  relinquished to shelters as people can’t afford to feed their human family members. You and I are both really worried about the impact of unemployment on the ability to feed our companion animals. Our Feed the Hungry campaign can provide so many with that kind of help.

Jean Shafiroff:  The program is so needed. Right now, we have 39 million Americans out of work. And what does this mean? This means that their families may not have food on the table. And so, what we’re seeing across the country is a situation where the animals are going without food. Some of the shelters are able to provide a food pantry for animals, but in many cases, there just isn’t enough money. And so American Humane is going to help shelters and rescue operations across the country by giving them the funds they need for the animals.

Unfortunately, because of this COVID-19 pandemic, we are starting to see surrenders of animals, which is very sad. And what is a surrender? This is when a family who loves their dog or cat, they can no longer afford to put the food on the table and can’t afford the veterinarian bills. So, they end up sending their dog back to a shelter.

As time goes on, we’re expecting these numbers to become even greater. And so your help is needed more than ever. You can donate to www.americanhumane.org . The reason why I got involved with American Humane is because I know that when I give my donation, I know that money’s being well spent. The overhead is low and the leadership is fantastic. This is an organization that’s been in existence since 1877. And they are premier in helping animals across the world. They work with legislators to change legislation, to improve the situation for all of our animals around the country. They work with our veterans, with programs to pair veterans with service animals who can help them should they be suffering from fear or anxiety due to war-related illnesses.

And they work with the general public. And that means everyone, including shelters across the United States. And remember, no donation is too small. I’d also like to speak a little bit about a fear that people have. They say: Can my dog or cat get the Coronavirus? And then can they transmit it to me? Well, I’ve been on many TV and radio stations talking about this because there so far have only been less than a handful of dogs and cats in the United States who have come down with this illness. And there has not been one case where a dog or a cat has given this disease to a human being. However, the CDC, just to be on the safe side,  has put together a few guidelines that all of us can very easily abide by with our pets. They are social distancing guidelines. First, when you take your dog out on a walk, make sure he’s leashed. And when that dog comes into contact with other people or other dogs, stay six feet away. Just the way you would with yourself or with one of your family members. Next, you shouldn’t really be going to the dog parks right now. And that’s just to be extra, extra careful. If you have a cat, you need to keep that cat inside and, of course, if you’re suffering from COVID-19, you need to socially isolate yourself and you need to socially isolate from your pets. The chances of you giving your pet COVID-19 so far are very, very slim. And there have been no reported cases so far of a dog or a cat transmitting the disease to people. So, I hope this helps alleviate the fear. These points come directly from the CDC. If you want to check yourself, just go to their website and punch in “CDC guidelines for animals.”

I can tell you, there’s nothing to be afraid of. Robin, I hope this is helpful. Do you have any more questions?

Robin Ganzert:  It’s so helpful, Jean. We’re so grateful for you using your platform to share vital information with the whole community about animals during this pandemic. Jean, I have a thank-you letter I want to read to you that we just received from a Feed the Hungry grant recipient. I know it’s going to warm your heart. This thank-you letter came from Sharon Peters, a co-founder of the Old Mutt Hut, a forever loving home for senior dogs in Colorado Springs. She said,

“Mid-March through mid-May, essentially the full breadth and duration of the pandemic lockdown is always our most expensive timeframe. That’s frightening when donations are down, and we’re quite certain they’ll be down for the next two to three months as people try to recover from what COVID has wrought. Receiving this grant at this moment when there are so many dogs to feed and keep healthy means the world. And far few sleepless nights.”

We don’t want Sharon to have sleepless nights. She needs to get sleep to take care of those senior dogs at the Old Mutt Hut. And we’re so grateful for Sharon for what she does to take care of these gray muzzles, giving them a chance to live out their lives in a forever loving home. Our Feed the Hungry campaign Jean is going to allow the Old Mutt Hut to continue its work, giving those dogs the best food and medical attention and care during this difficult time. Working together with Jean and all of you on this call has allowed us to develop and deliver lifesaving help to hundreds of thousands of dogs, cats, horses, sheep and even some remarkable endangered animals living in conservation centers. We’re so grateful to everyone who has given to this campaign. To learn more, you can visit www.americanhumane.org and make a donation today. That little bit of kindness to our best friends in their worst times goes such a long way.

Jean, I’m so grateful to you for your leadership. I know we’re going to help make this happen. One million meals is our goal. Thank you so much for what you’re doing to make that happen.

Jean Shafiroff:  Well, thank you, Robin. And I want to thank all of the participants today and everyone who is involved in supporting this effort. On behalf of American Humane, because together we will get to that one million dollar mark. And I have a special message to all the larger donors. I want to thank you. And the impact of your larger gifts is enormous. And also I want to thank those that are giving the gifts of $50, $25, $100 because these donations make a massive difference. And for anyone who wants to give on a monthly basis to help, it really will help these shelters and these different rescue groups that are struggling to put food on the table for all our furry friends. I can’t think of anything more heartbreaking than to see our beloved pets, those who give us so much unconditional love, to be in a situation where they don’t have any food. I know none of you want to see this. And Robin, you’re doing an amazing job. Thank you so much. All of you are doing a great, great job.

Robin Ganzert:  Oh, thank you.

Jean Shafiroff:  And remember, when you respond to a little animal who doesn’t have a voice of his own, and you help that animal, well, God’s going to give you an extra special blessing. So, I thank all of you for your involvement.

Robin Ganzert:  Oh, thank you, Jean. And thanks so much for joining us for our fireside chat. American Humane has already delivered lifesaving help to hundreds of thousands of dogs, cats, horses, sheep, and even remarkable and endangered animals living in conservation centers.  We are so grateful to everyone who gave and pledged to this campaign, which everyone can support today by going to American Humane-dot-org.  Thank you so much for providing food, comfort, and a little kindness to our best friends in their worst times.

I’d now like to turn to another topic that has been deeply, deeply concerning for all animal lovers. And that is the impact of the COVID-19 global pandemic on wild animal populations. We at American Humane have been working hard to provide thought leadership on this topic and we were just notified about 10 minutes ago that International Business Times is going to publish my latest think piece on coronavirus and its impact on poaching. I’m heartened that this issue is going to be brought up in International Business Times because this is a global issue. Animal welfare and conservation know no geographic bounds and this is a very important and relevant topic.

Today I’m so delighted that we have one of the world’s most famous zoological experts, Brad Andrews, joining us. He’s our global director for conservation at American Humane and I’ve been so proud to work alongside this gentleman in the development of our global humane conservation efforts. Brad, we are thrilled to welcome you. And I also want to welcome back top veterinarian and animal health expert, Dr. Tom Edling, who has worked for years with the CDC on animal health issues including the guidelines that Jean has just shared with you regarding companion animals and COVID-19.

Brad, Tom, welcome to our call. We’re delighted to have you here today to share your expert perspectives on how the Coronavirus pandemic is affecting not just people, but animals around the world. Brad, talk to me if you can, on what you’re hearing about the impact in ecotourism, the increased poaching, and what’s happening with the endangered species that we so love and want to protect.

Brad Andrews:  Well, thank you, Robin. I’m glad to be part of your conversation today. And let me start by saying that the conservation world right now is affected by the COVID-19 issue just like we are. There are areas right now where we’re seeing wildlife flourish because of the inactivity of so many humans. In certain parts of the world the animals are actually doing very well because they’re not being harassed or bothered. They’re roaming around and food is plentiful at this time of year, so there’s a positive aspect to this. But there’s a negative aspect, as well.

I want to clarify that when people talk about the “wild,” there isn’t much wild left anymore. In reality, everywhere you go in different parts of the world where the biodiversity is rich, such as in South America and Africa, India, and Southeast Asia, a lot of the areas that are protected habitats are concessions or huge, giant national parks. They have people there that love the animals, that are knowledgeable about the animals. But right now, nobody is visiting those parks. So, ecotourism has come to a complete standstill. There’s no money. There are no guides, there’s nobody protecting the animals.

Poaching is increasing. In fact I was talking to a good friend of mine from South Africa just yesterday, and a lot of people that live in the rural villages are going outside and now starting to poach some of the smaller animals because of lack of food. So, the pandemic has negative aspects also. This is not good because conservation, when everybody gets down to it, takes money also. And it takes good, knowledgeable people to do the right things.

Robin Ganzert:  So Brad, they are having food shortages in countries where we have endangered species populations, and no money is coming in. And you’re saying that they’re going into the parks and killing the animals for food?

Brad Andrews:  People in nearby areas have to find other food for their families. And when you look at some of these huge parks, like the Kruger National Park, when you drive into Kruger National Park there’s actually a fenced boundary around the park. And there are people that live on farms and in local villages around there. A lot of their livelihood is dependent upon supporting that national park. But now they have no money. And so the animals are going to end up suffering inadvertently. Illegal trade is starting to increase. The illegal trade of wildlife is just a horrendous process and the problems go on and on and on.

Animals are shipped from different parts of the world to other parts of the world for medicinal purposes, which is absolutely crazy. And some of these animals are suffering horrible deaths. People are talking about legislation to stop the illegal trade of animals, which is great. But we need to make sure that we have the ability to move animals from place to place for translocation, reintroduction and protection. So there has to be a commonsense approach to this so that the animals have a home and a place to go. We’ve got to get rid of illegal trade, but we’ve got to be able to move animals for the right reasons to do the right thing for the long-term conservation of some of these species.

Robin Ganzert:  Brad, you and I both have traveled the world. You and I spent a lot of time together in China working on significant animal welfare issues. We’ve both spent time in Africa and certainly in the Middle East working on these issues over the past couple of years. One thing that we’ve talked about a lot are “wet markets.” I think few people in our country had heard of wet markets before the global Coronavirus pandemic. I know you’ve seen them, and I’ve certainly seen them. These are incredibly tragic situations from an animal welfare perspective. And now we know that they’ve become a human welfare issue. Can you share your thoughts about the wet markets that you’ve seen in your career protecting animals?

Brad Andrews:  Yes, I certainly can. A wet market is one selling live animals, who are often held in squalid situations and cramped situations. They’re thrown into little cages. You see hundreds of fish in a little, tiny tank. You see poultry jammed together and turtles jammed into small containers. The suspected problem in Wuhan was a bat, probably in a stressful situation in a cage, and probably with many other bats, which was sold as food. And suddenly have a virus being spread. Some of the things I’ve seen over the years: you walk into a building and you just see floor after floor after floor of live animals, dead animals and unsanitary conditions. I know some of this is a cultural issue, and some of it is a learning issue, but these things have to be talked about and we have to approach them with common sense so that we makes it safe for everyone, including the animals.

The human being is the only life form on Earth that can make it good for the animals or bad for the animals. The animals can’t do anything on their own. They can’t control what’s happening to their habitat, the way they’re taken care of, and the way they’re housed. So if we as human beings don’t do our job, then we’re going to continue to have wet markets, illegal trade, and zoonotic and anthropogenic issues.

Robin Ganzert:  Brad, you and I have been working for the past two years together on a film, Escape From Extinction, which we will roll out here very, very soon. Escape From Extinction features Helen Mirren as our narrator and focuses on the issue of the Sixth Mass Extinction. And Brad, I think these issues have now come to the forefront because of the global pandemic. And now we see ever increasing threats to what conservation was also facing the sixth mass extinction. Can you share your thoughts about our new film?

Brad Andrews:   Well, the film Escape From Extinction is very exciting because it portrays exactly what’s going on in this day and age….that we’re losing species all over the world. But there is hope. There is hope because we have smart, knowledgeable people that care about animals, and want to make sure that there’s a future for those animals in our lives. We show some of the success stories, but we also tell some of the sad stories. The reality is that people have to wake up and realize that a mass extinction is going on, and if we want to do the right thing, we’ve got to think about how we manage these animals and take care of them properly.  E.O. Wilson said that if a child is born today and if that child is lucky enough to live 80 years, fifty percent of the species on this globe will be gone by the time that person reaches 80.  So in 80 short years we’re going to lose half of all species. And when you stop and think about the issues going on in our oceans, the oceans are an unknown entity where we do a lot of science and we try and predict the stock in the catches, we’re going to probably have empty oceans in the next 50 years. We’ve got to figure out how to be more knowledgeable, how to be smarter and faster to try and save some of these issues and get them to the forefront.

Robin Ganzert:  Well, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. We need to get down to practical solutions on a whole lot of issues. I now want to turn it over to Dr. Tom Edling, who, as you remember has worked for years as one of our nation’s foremost veterinarians. We affectionately call him our own Dr. Fauci. He’s been an expert supporting our programs at American Humane, particularly our humane Hollywood program. And he’s worked with the CDC for years as an expert in the area of animal health and the kinds of problems we’re seeing today with the deadly worldwide pandemic. Tom, what can you add to Brad’s insights about how the pandemic is affecting wild animal populations from a poaching and also from a health perspective?

Dr. Tom Edling:  I’ve been to South and Central America many times and seen their wet markets. When these animals are captured, which is an unnatural thing for them, their immune systems start to drop. They start shedding bacteria, viruses, funguses, much more than they would if they were a natural, healthy animal in their normal habitat. They’re crammed into these cages, travel to and then sit in these wet markets, terrified because all these strange things are going on around them. Then many of them are slaughtered right there. So, from a medical standpoint, it makes things so much worse. Another really good point Brad made was about legislation. I was just looking at a Senate bill this morning aimed at transporting animals. But as Brad said, there are a lot of unintended consequences. These bills need to be written very, very carefully so you don’t stop the transportation of animals that is needed, but you do stop it when it is not needed. And it’s very hard to word those bills correctly. So we’re working on some bills right now, helping write the language correctly so we don’t stop the movement of animals around the world that is needed while stopping the unneeded movement. And that’s a really tricky line to walk.

Robin Ganzert:  Absolutely. Legislators need to turn to experts such as both you Tom, and you, Brad, to write this kind of legislation so it doesn’t have unintended consequences. And talk about unintended consequences….Botswana had some policies that came out towards the end of last year and even agreed to start opening up to hunting again of elephant populations – a terrible outcome for elephants that are clearly at threat in terms of extinction. So, lots of serious issues that are global. And again, animal welfare knows no boundaries. Clearly, we know today that the reason we have this global pandemic called the coronavirus is because of the broken social contract that we’ve had with animals. I want to go back to that. Tom, give us your perspective on the broken social contract that we have with animals.

Dr. Tom Edling:  Oh absolutely. This is something I’ve actually written about for years. The way I look at it, a long time ago, who knows when, we all started together….all of us animals were together in the wild in nature. Over the years, humans became humans, and as Brad said, we’re the only animal that today that actually can change things. And all of the other animals are at our mercy, so to speak. And we have been using animals in good and bad ways for thousands of years. Domestication and all the different ways that humans use animals now, whether it’s for food, for research, for pets. With all these ways that we use animals, there is and needs to be a social contract. We have to treat animals as equals because they are equals in the world. Now, we’re pushing out the animals. It’s the moral obligcation of the human to treat animals on an equal footing. And we haven’t done that. And that’s one of the things I know you’ve been pushing for so hard, Robin, with American Humane. It is our duty, it’s our moral obligation to treat them with respect and dignity.

Robin Ganzert:  We’re so fortunate to have you at American Humane to further this conversation, particularly those legislators who can make better policy if they’re engaged with thought leaders such as Tom and Brad on writing such very important legislation.

This has been another great opportunity to get the real facts out there regarding animals and the world we share. I’m so grateful for Jean for her leadership with Feed the Hungry campaign and giving you an update on how many hundreds of thousands of animals we’re impacting this very moment because of you, our friends and certainly Jean and her leadership of our campaign. So, thank you all for what you’re doing to feed the hungry. I also want to thank Tom and Brad for their leadership regarding the most endangered creatures of our Earth. Thank you for updating us on the situation regarding the endangered species and how the pandemic is impacting them.

Friends, we must remember that no matter how far apart all of us are as we negotiate this modern disaster, we can still continue to work together effectively and make a difference for millions and billions of animals by collaborating. Please help us spread the word about the work we’re doing. Our campaigns, our newsletters, our annual Impact Report are all on our website at www.AmericanHumane.org . And you can use those to help recruit new humane ambassadors for our cause, which is now needed and more vital than ever before.

I want to thank you all for what you’ve done, what you’re doing and what you’re continuing to do every day for the cause of animals. And I’m looking forward to welcoming you in two more weeks for our next fireside chat. God bless America and God bless American Humane. Thank you for joining us.

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