Petitioners claim MSPCA is feeding sheltered dogs and cats food made of farm animals; 600-plus signers seek to end the practice

Hundreds of people have signed a petition launched last month that aims to get the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (MSPCA) to stop feeding sheltered dogs and cats food made of farm animals.

The petition was started in September by Nathan Herschler, the executive director of the 125-year-old animal advocacy group Rise for Animals, formerly known as the New England Anti-Vivisection Society (NEAVS).

Herschler, who adopted six hens from the MSPCA at Nevins Farm in Methuen last month, claims the organization feeds dogs and cats in its care food made of farm animals. The Cape Cod man wants that practice to end.

“It’s important for MSPCA to take a leadership role on this,” he told MassLive. “It’s such a unique opportunity for the organization to lead consumer behavior and the behavior of other shelters.”

The Sandwich resident argued most major pet food brands, including Pedigree, Purina, Natural Balance and Halo, offer cruelty-free, plant-based options as well as fish, egg or dairy alternatives to meat.

However, within the organization, some individuals still refuse to use cruelty-free dog foods, according to Herschler.

“I’m shocked with MSPCA’s hypocrisy. Some parts of the organization rescue chickens, pigs and other farm animals, lobby for farm animal rights and send out newsletters about the horrors of factory farming,” Herschler wrote in a statement. “Yet other members of the organization apparently have no regard for this important work and actually support the cruel confinements and killings of the same animals they are charged to protect.”

As of Thursday, Herschler’s petition had garnered 643 signatures and the support of former MSPCA veterinarian Martha Smith-Blackmore, who currently works as a clinical professor at the Cummings School Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University.

The internationally recognized veterinarian is calling on animal rescue organizations to “respect the welfare intent of their donors and feed vegan or vegetarian diets when possible, and feed humanely raised meat diets when choosing an animal based diet,” she wrote in a LinkedIn post.

When asked about the petition, an MSPCA spokesperson said the organization’s No. 1 priority is the health and comfort of the animals in its care.

Animals sheltered by the MSPCA are only with the organization for a short amount of time, whether that be for treatment at Angell Animal Medical Center or for temporary housing at one of its adoption centers, according to the spokesperson.

Changing a rescued animal’s diet while it is already under stress can be detrimental to its health and comfort, the spokesperson noted.

“Because of this, while undergoing treatment at Angell or seeking a home from inside one of our adoption centers, we provide a diet that is as close to what the animals in our care normally eat,” the spokesperson said. “Changing a pet’s diet is a longterm decision that should be made by their owner and in consultation with their veterinarian.”

According to Herschler, part of the issue is “inertia.” The MSPCA, considered the second-oldest humane society in the U.S., has been using meat-based food to feed dogs and cats it shelters “for forever,” he said.

He urged the MSPCA, which he has worked with in the past, to take action as soon as possible, though, and “reassume its leadership role in this space.”

“I love MSPCA. I worked with them. They’ve led a lot of the advocacy efforts surrounding animals in Massachusetts,” Herschler said. “I just want them to live up to their mission.”

The animal rights advocate pointed out around a quarter of the roughly 9 billion farm animals killed in the U.S. every year are used for dog and cat food.

“That ties into polluted water, polluted air, major climate change impacts and, obviously, the billions of animals killed for this industry,” he said.

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