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article imageThe accomplishments of animal welfare activist Eric Mills Special

By Stephanie Dearing     Sep 4, 2010 in Lifestyle
Oakland - He's 71 years old and when his detractors accuse him of being a racist, he jokes that he's an "equal opportunity racist when it comes to animal welfare." He's outspoken, and works tirelessly to promote animal welfare.
Eric Mills is responsible for seeing three animal welfare bills enacted into law in California. He says he is interested in protecting the welfare of all animals, but looking after animals in rodeos is the area closest to his heart. Reached by email and telephone, Mills said he has always been interested in protecting the environment, but only got involved in trying to change the way animals are treated after he attended his first rodeo about 30 years ago.
Mills points to recent rodeo events in Jefferson County, Colorado to reinforce what he is saying about the importance of treating animals decently. July's Coleadero rodeo saw seven steers lose their tails, a common occurrence -- so common, cowboys call it "degloving." The rodeo event is called "steer tailing" or "calf tripping" and the idea is that a cowboy, seated on a horse, tries to control a running steer by grabbing it by the tail. Steer tailing in Spanish is 'coleadero.' Degloving can result in the steer completely losing its tail. Mills noted the event can also result in broken legs for the horses and steers.
This is one event Mills would like to see banned for good, and the activist achieved a modicum of success after working tirelessly into the wee hours of the morning recently, sending out emails to animal welfare groups. The lobbying that followed resulted in organizers taking steer-tailing off the schedule for the August, September and October rodeos.
Mills said he was determined to take action when he learned that Coleadero rodeo organizers decided to keep the steer tailing event, even though criminal charges were laid against them following the injuries caused to the animals during the July rodeo. Of the eleven animals injured during the July rodeo, two injured steers had to be put down. One sustained a broken pelvis, the other a broken leg. KDVR News reported that police were surprised that Jefferson County officials allowed the rodeo to proceed in August.
There are three American rodeo events Mills would like to see permanently banned. Single steer roping, calf roping and steer wresting top his list. As for the Charreada, Mills would like to have horse tripping and steer tailing banned. Mills is also lobbying to have all California rodeos to have a veterinarian on site.
While some feel threatened by Mills' activism, Mills said his goal isn't to put anyone out of work. "I just want people to do their jobs." Veterinarians have been required by law since 2000 to submit animal death reports within 48 hours after a rodeo event. Mills said only a dozen or so reports have been filed in the past ten years, but there should be 50 to 60 reports submitted every year, an indication that compliance with the law is low. Mills would like to see people "do their jobs and obey the laws that are on the books," saying there are very good animal protection laws in place. The fact that so few reports are filed shows that having an on-call veterinarian does not work, Mills said.
Mills characterizes rodeos as domination events featuring "man over nature, man over beast, an overdose of testosterone," but this doesn't mean he dislikes cowboys. Mills said he admired cowboys because "Cowboys love what they do and they don't get paid for it unless they win." But even so, Mills says cowboys need to stop common practices, which have been banned, such as the use of hot shots and cow pokers. Mills said "The American rodeo should stick only to sanctioned events. If you want to be professional, then by God, be professional."
Attitudes about rodeos are not limited to men, Mills said, quoting an unnamed 18 year old Oregon Rodeo Queen who is alleged to have said "What me and my rodeo friends really hate are democrats, environmentalists and gay people." That quote can be found in the book Rodeo Queens and the American Dream by Joan Burbick. Mills points to rodeo events like mutton busting as prime examples of the American mindset, asking "What kind of parents put their their children in harm's way?"
One of Mills' passions is to see veterinarians get behind the principles of animal welfare. Veterinarians, said Mills, do not always look out for animal welfare. Mills offered several examples to make his point. The first was the recent senseless and violent death of a pregnant cow and her unborn calf recently, a horrible death that happened because a veterinarian had instructed police to kill the cow.
The incident occurred in July at the California State Fair. The Fair sets up birthing pens, Mills said, where pregnant animals on the cusp of giving birth are placed so that the public can watch animals being born. At this year's fair, a pregnant cow broke free while she was being transferred to her birthing pen. Police said they attempted to corral the animal, but within a short while, the on-site veterinarian had determined the cow was a "safety risk," and gave police permission to kill the cow. The police opened fire on the reluctant cow, and killed her very badly. "It took eleven bullets to kill the cow. All body shots," Mills said. "They killed the unborn calf too." The veterinarian, Dr. Ben Norman, justified the killing of the cow, by saying "I think she's a nutcase. She doesn't respond too well." "There may have been nutcases present, but the cow was not one of them," Mills said.
"Animals have a right to be treated decently," said Mills. Birthing pens, in Mills view, do not belong on fairgrounds. Mills would like to see the birthing pens discontinued at fairs because "animals need peace and quiet when they give birth." The California State Fair is now reviewing the birthing displays, reported the Sacramento Bee.
For his second example, Mills raised the 2003 case when a veterinarian allegedly authorized the killing of 30,000 chickens by shredding them in a wood chipper. The news article that originally ran in the LA Times reported "... San Diego County's Animal Services Department has filed a complaint against a veterinarian who allegedly authorized a Valley Center egg ranch to kill 30,000 hens by dumping them alive into a wood chipper." While a public movement sprang up, seeking some sort of discipline for Dr. Gregg Cutler, the District Attorney declined to press charges against either Cutler or the owners of Ward Egg Ranch.
The third example Mills presented was the position of some veterinarians over California's 2008 Proposition 2. The bill, which was voted in, requires farmers to give specified livestock enough cage space so as to allow the animals enough room to lie down, stand up, extend their legs and to turn around. The proposed bill divided the California Veterinary Association, reported National Hog Farmer, and the California Veterinary Association, which supported the bill, lost a number of members who created their own association to oppose the bill.
California veterinarians were not alone in opposing the bill, which will come into effect on January 1, 2015. The American Veterinary Medical Association fought the bill, saying it was "... based on emotion and not on a thorough scientific evaluation of all factors that contribute to animal well-being."
Another issue Mills has taken on is California's live food markets, popular with California's Asian population. The market-keepers had been importing live frogs and turtles for sale to their customers. Mills cites several issues, including the inhumane killing of the animals; the importation, sale and deaths of protected turtle species; and the import of diseased bullfrogs. The bullfrogs, Mills said, often escape or are released, and pose problems for native frogs due to the disease and competition for scare resources. Mills' efforts resulted in the enactment of California legislation, Penal Code 597.3, which seeks to protect the frogs and turtles. Mills co-authored the legislation, but said the new law has not changed much because there is little enforcement. "People are not doing their jobs," Mills said.
Because of the lack of enforcement, Mills led a lobbying effort that resulted in California's Fish and Game Commission banning the import of frogs and turtles for the live food markets. The ban created anger amongst live food merchants, who said they were being unfarily targeted, reported SFGate.
Mills started an organization called Action for Animals in 1994, where he works as the unpaid coordinator. The organization primarily lobbies "... the state legislature on animal bills, letter-writing to newspapers, booths at fairs, etc.." Mills and Action for Animals also organizes demonstrations which they mount outside of rodeos and circuses. Action for Animals publishes a calendar for local animal activists, an activity that started in 1984. The calendar goes out to approximately 30 organizations and 150 people. Action for Animals exists to help educate the public about animal welfare issues and strives to "make things better for animals generally. And humans too."
Mills prefers to work inthe realm of animal welfare, not animal rights. "Rights usually protect property, which confuses the issue." In addition animal rights has come to be equated with terrorism, he points out. "It's never been proven to me that humans have any god-given rights from the universe. It's something that civilized people extend to one another. And, hopefully, to other creatures as well (keeping in mind that humans are animals too.)" Mills added, "Everyone agrees with welfare."
Mills said it is important to protect animal welfare because "It's the fair, just, kind thing to do. We're currently losing an estimated 40,000 plant and animal species every year. And almost entirely due to human impact, not evolution. Frankly, I think the human race is a cancer upon the planet, but that's not something I preach openly. We need to inspire people, not depress them."
Mills and his activism through his group, Action For Animals have now gotten three pieces of legislation enacted in California to protect animal welfare: the state-wide rodeo animal welfare law, Penal Code 596.7 (1999); the banning of horse tripping (Mexican Rodeos); and Penal Code 597.3 to improve conditions for animals sold in live food markets.
Mills has also drafted the rodeo policies for the Hayward Rowell Ranch and the Solano County Fair, both located in California. His efforts have also seen Alameda County and Contra Costa County ban horse tripping and steer-tailing, with both counties also requiring on-site veterinarians at all rodeos.
Mills is not ready to retire from his work anytime soon. The path humans are taking troubles Mills, making it hard for him to sleep. What bothers Mills the most is our love of violence as a species. "War does not work," he stated flatly.
One of Mills' most treasured moments in life happened when Cesar Chavez, then-President of the United Farm Workers of America, sent Action for Animals a letter of support. "Did you know Chavez was an ethical vegetarian, as was his 84-year-old mother, before she died?" Mills asked. "Or so he told me." When rallying his fellow animal welfare activists, Mills sounds the rallying cry, 'What would Cesar Chavez do?' Mills quotes from Chavez's letter frequently when lobbying officials. Dated December 26, 1990, the letter says in part: Kindness and compassion toward all living things is a mark of a civilized society. Conversely, cruelty, whether it is directed against human beings or against animals, is not the exclusive province of any one culture or community of people.
Racism, economic deprival, dog fighting and cock fighting, bullfighting and rodeos are cut from the same fabric: violence.
Only when we have become nonviolent towards all life will we have learned to live well ourselves."
Action for Animals does not have a website. Anyone interested in supporting Mills or learning more is encouraged to contact Action For Animals by writing to: Eric Mills, Coordinator, Action for Animals, P.O. Box 20184, Oakland, CA 94620. Mills can also be reached via telephone - 510-652-5603, or email -
Article Amendments: This article has been amended to correct errors the author made when writing the article. The author apologizes for any confusion she might have caused.
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