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January 2009

Friday, January 30, 2009

Together We Can Make Real Change for Animals

A couple weeks ago, I laid out our ambitious Change Agenda for Animals—100 urgent steps that federal executive agencies must take for the sake of animals and their humane treatment. Since then, I’ve seen a mixture of both optimism and reality here in Washington: We hope that change is coming, but we know it’s going to take hard work if we’re going to be part of it.

281x144_dog_in_box Here at the Humane Society Legislative Fund, our dedicated team of legislative and policy experts have thrown themselves at the task—but our vision of change won’t turn into reality without your help. That’s why I hope you’ll join me as a monthly supporter of the Humane Society Legislative Fund today.

To be sure, the Humane Society Legislative Fund has an ambitious agenda in Congress, but much progress for animals can be achieved through regulatory actions based on laws Congress has already passed. We need the executive agencies that directly impact the lives of millions of animals to take immediate steps to protect animals from cruelty and abuse. Here are just three reforms that cry out for action:

  • As I wrote yesterday, gray wolves are in jeopardy of losing their protections under the Endangered Species Act. If these federal protections are rolled back, states are likely to open up sport hunting and commercial trapping seasons on these majestic creatures. The Interior Department must instead renew our national commitment to protecting wolves and other endangered species.
  • Today marks the one-year anniversary of the exposé that uncovered the appalling abuse of sick and crippled cows at a California slaughter plant supplying ground beef to the school lunch program. Yet, the Agriculture Department has not finalized its rule banning the slaughter of downed cows. As each day passes, animals remain at risk and so does food safety.
  • Around the country, law enforcement agencies are cracking down on animal cruelty and organized animal fighting. But they need more help and encouragement to make these crimes a priority. They need the Justice Department to track animal crimes as a specific category. This will put the spotlight—and then the handcuffs—on those criminals who force animals to fight to death for entertainment.

If the federal agencies take action on all 100 items on our Change Agenda for Animals in the first year, they need to act quickly—at the pace of 8 reforms each month. I hope you will join us in this fight, with a gift of just $8 a month to support the critical work of the Humane Society Legislative Fund.

Please stand with us as we implement our change agenda, and make sure the animals have a voice in Washington. I know that we can do it with your help, and that this is change the animals can believe in.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Throwing Wolves to the Wolves

On Inauguration Day, while the new president and vice president were still shaking hands and sitting down to lunch on Capitol Hill, new White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel was already hard at work. Racing from the ceremony to the White House, Emanuel quickly issued what is now known as the “Rahm Memo”—one of the most important directives of the Obama Administration’s first week in office. The document puts an indefinite hold on all pending last-minute regulatory actions by the outgoing Bush Administration, and directs the new Cabinet staff to reconsider those regulatory changes before taking further action.

The New York Times on Sunday published an editorial urging that several new rules that recently became law should be quickly undone—such as those ending the 25-year ban on carrying loaded weapons in national parks, and relaxing restrictions on water and air pollution from factory farms. The other proposed rules that have not yet been finalized, perhaps because the agencies simply ran out of time, are thankfully now frozen and under review.

Graywolfcreditgarykramerusfws We hope the Obama Administration will take a hard look at one of those rules in particular: the Interior Department’s last-minute decision to strip gray wolves in the United States of their protections under the federal Endangered Species Act. It’s a bad proposal that marks the culmination of an eight-year saga in which federal officials attempted to strip wolves of ESA protections at least a half dozen different ways, only to be turned back by courts in Montana, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington, D.C.

The agency’s first misguided effort involved splitting the wolf’s range into several large chunks, and then giving most wolves less protection by downlisting them from “endangered” to “threatened”—a scheme that two federal courts independently struck down. Undeterred by this judicial rebuke, the agency embarked on an even more brazen effort to remove federal protections from wolves by dividing them into two populations—the Rocky Mountains and the western Great Lakes—and delisting them entirely. Just this past year, at the request of The Humane Society of the United States and other groups, federal courts struck down both rules and restored protections to the wolves.

After being rebuffed by the courts six times in three and a half years, one might think that the government would have learned its lesson and refocused its efforts on wolf recovery. Instead, the agency adopted the opposite approach, rushing to delist the gray wolf yet again before the change in administrations. Remarkably, they were in such a hurry to beat the transition date they didn’t even provide public notice and comment, as required by federal law.

They’ve simply thrown a Hail Mary—hoping this latest attempt to strip wolves of all federal protections will finally stick. We don’t think it’s going to cut it, either in the courts or with the American people. And we’re heartened that Interior Secretary Ken Salazar has said he will revisit many of the department’s recent actions.

Unfortunately, there has been more public attention to the plight of the Rocky Mountain wolf population than the Great Lakes population, while both are in dire need of federal protection. Even some environmental groups appear to have bought into the idea of splitting the baby.

But wolves within the Great Lakes region are subject to numerous threats which show that the ESA’s protections are still necessary. For example, scientists have shown that disease is causing high levels of mortality in Minnesota wolves, and that these disease impacts might spread to wolves in Michigan and Wisconsin. 

WOLF Perhaps most troubling is the fact that, upon delisting, wolves would be subjected to widespread killings at the hands of hostile state wildlife agencies. The killing of wolves would immediately begin under intensive lethal control programs already drafted by Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin. Sport hunting and commercial trapping of wolves would likely follow.

Collectively, the plans in these three states would permit nearly a 50 percent decline in the Great Lakes wolf population. Under the Minnesota plan, landowners in 60 percent of the state would be able to kill wolves even absent any immediate threat to domestic animals. The state would authorize the creation of “predator control areas”—i.e., free-fire zones which could remain open for several months after any single wolf causes a problem for livestock. The Minnesota plan even resurrects a form of the old bounty system by paying out $150 for each wolf killed.

All of this cries out for one thing: a new approach. The Rahm Memo provides the new administration a golden opportunity to put aside the failed policy of wolf persecution, and dig into the hard work of coming up with humane wildlife management solutions that are more successful over the long run.

We are hopeful that the Obama Administration will demonstrate a renewed commitment to endangered species protection, and will simply withdraw the latest wolf delisting rules, rather than waste federal funds to hopelessly defend these illegal rules. They need to hear from the humane community about the importance of protecting all wolves, but especially about the need to defend the Great Lakes population. Stripping away their federal protections would not only have dire consequences for gray wolves, but also for the future of the Endangered Species Act as a whole.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Your Government Needs You

Last week, our nation witnessed the peaceful transfer of power which is a hallmark of our democracy. We have the opportunity to elect the people who represent us and who make laws on our behalf at the federal, state, and local levels, and we have to participate in the process in order to have influence.

Lobby_day If we want laws that protect animals from cruelty and abuse, animal advocates need to participate. Over the next few weeks, you can have a front-row seat for representative government in action, and help animals in your state by communicating directly with lawmakers at your state capitol. Thousands of citizens across the country who care about animal protection will participate in our 2009 Humane Lobby Day, and will ask their state legislators to support bills dealing with puppy mills, pets in disasters, animal fighting, factory farming, fur labeling, and other important policy reforms.

Starting in February, Humane Lobby Day will take place in 41 states where the legislatures are currently in session. So click here to find your state on the list, and RSVP to join me and other animal advocates for this important gathering. With the force of constituents visiting their state capitols to push for the passage of humane laws, together we can put animal protection on the legislative agenda across the nation.

And since Humane Lobby Day is just around the corner, I thought I’d dust off some tips I’ve offered in the past on how to be an effective citizen lobbyist for animals. You don’t have to be a hired-gun, smooth-talking lobbyist or know all the answers in order to participate in the legislative process. You are a constituent who cares about the issue, and your elected officials care what you think! Whether you’re making a phone call or visiting them in person to make your case, there are a few basic rules that apply. Here are some tips to keep handy.

Identify yourself.  Whether you’re calling to register your opinion, or visiting a legislative office in person, start by telling them who you are. Make sure to tell them where you live so they know you’re a constituent. (Typically, you only contact your own legislators, unless it’s a special circumstance such as a committee chairman.) And let them know if you represent an organization or other stakeholders—such as teachers, sheriffs, or veterinarians—who have an interest in the issue.

Be polite and professional. This is common sense, but always worth repeating. You can state your views firmly and forcefully without being hostile or argumentative. Always be friendly and courteous, even if the legislator disagrees with your position. Don’t interrupt or scream out at legislative hearings. And while it’s important to be professional, it’s also important to look professional—legislators and their staff are more likely to be persuaded by people in business attire than people wearing cut-off jeans and flip-flops.

State a clear and concise objective. Stay focused on the purpose of your phone call or meeting, and don’t wander off in too many directions. Let them know up front what you are asking them to do, and refer to bills by their numbers and names—such as, “I want Representative Smith to co-sponsor H.R. 503, the Prevention of Equine Cruelty Act.” Be sure to explain any jargon that might be unclear, such as “puppy mills,” “canned hunts,” “pound seizure,” or “Class B dealers.” It’s okay to bring up more than one bill in a meeting, but you may want to limit your list to two or three bills that are most important to you.

Explain why this issue is important to you personally. Lawmakers are interested in data and statistics, but they’re much more interested in how an issue affects their constituents personally. If you have a story to tell, it’s much more compelling than charts and graphs. If you’re talking about dogfighting, you might be an animal control or animal shelter worker who has seen injured pit bulls, or a police officer who has seen the connection that dogfighters have to drugs and violence in your community. If you’re advocating for antifreeze legislation, it might be because you had a dog who was poisoned by drinking the sweet-tasting liquid. If you’re a teacher or parent, you might comment on the impact animal cruelty has on children. Tell your story.

Don’t use form letters.
Legislators want to know what you have to say, not just that you can cut and paste. They know when it’s a form letter, period. It’s okay to use talking points and language from advocacy groups like The HSUS and HSLF when you craft your letters, but it’s best to put them into your own words.

Use the web and email effectively. Visit legislators’ official web sites before your meetings, so you can learn in advance about their background, biographical information, positions on issues, and even their pets. If you send email through advocacy web sites such as humanesociety.org and hslf.org, remember to edit that part of the letter that allows you to put it into your own words. You can also send email and register comments through the legislator’s own web site. Phone calls are usually taken more seriously by legislative offices, so if you do send email, you can still follow up with a phone call, too.

Never lie or mislead. The truth for animals is harsh enough, and you don’t need to embellish. If you make up facts and figures or stretch the truth, it will always come back to haunt you. Don’t be afraid to say you don’t know the answer to a question, and offer to look it up for them later or put them in touch with someone who might know. You’re not expected to be an expert on every issue—you are a citizen who cares and has an opinion.

Work with legislative staff. Don’t be offended if you can’t get the legislator on the phone or get a meeting with him or her personally. Lawmakers rely on their staff to meet with constituents, draft legislation, learn the issues, and make policy recommendations. The staff will have more time to get to know you and your issues, and they are your gateway to the elected officials. Get to know the staff and develop relationships, so they will begin to view you as a source of reliable information on animal issues in your community.

Be prepared to compromise. Legislators may not do what you want 100 percent of the time, but they can still help advance the cause of animal protection. If you discuss three bills and they agree to support two, you’ve made progress. Don’t expect complete orthodoxy. A legislator might agree to vote for a bill when it comes to the floor, but doesn’t want to be a co-sponsor for political reasons—a vote in the hand is better than two co-sponsorships in the bush.

Listen to elected officials’ comments and questions. Don’t expect to give a monologue on animal protection. Let them react to the issues you raise, and have a conversation. Their comments and questions will give you cues on how to frame your arguments and what additional information might be useful. If they ask questions or need more information, it gives you an opportunity to follow up with them after your meeting.

Thank someone who was helpful. Always thank a staff member who took the time to meet with you, and follow up with any additional information that’s needed. And if a legislator does what you’ve requested, such as co-sponsor or vote for a bill, be sure to thank him or her for taking that action. Positive reinforcement is the most effective way to develop a good relationship for future issues.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

What’s Good for the Goose

Birds were in the news last week, and not in a good way. A flock of Canada geese is suspected of downing a US Airways jet as it left LaGuardia Airport in New York, forcing the pilot to make an emergency landing in the Hudson River. Thankfully, all 155 people aboard the plane made it out.

Jets are designed to withstand bird strikes, and a bird flying into an engine is usually not noticeable to pilots or passengers. As Ki Mae Heussner reported on ABCNews.com, about 80 percent of bird strikes are not even recorded. In extremely rare cases—especially during takeoff, which was apparently the case last week—jets and birds sharing the same air space can endanger more than just the birds.

Canada goose Canada geese are known more for fouling residential lawns, parks, and golf courses than for interfering with aviation. The migratory birds, which were captured and relocated decades ago to many parts of the country, have now taken up residence year-round in urban and suburban neighborhoods. The Humane Society of the United States and GeesePeace have been working with property owners and community leaders to solve goose conflicts, which are largely aesthetic but also deal with public health and safety.

Congress, too, has shown leadership in this area. Thanks to the efforts of Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), the 2004 appropriations bill included $200,000 for pilot programs to reduce goose conflicts on Long Island and in the Hudson Valley. The funding was used to train federal and state agencies and local volunteers on a series of humane strategies to control goose populations, including the use of border collies to safely herd geese and chase them from areas where they aren’t wanted, and the oiling of eggs to prevent more births.

Killing geese through methods such as round-ups, gassing, and asphyxiation is not only inhumane, but also ineffective at solving local conflicts. No matter how many birds are removed, neighboring geese will be attracted to the same lawns and ponds, will soon fill the vacancy, and will continue reproducing. The nonlethal strategies, such as those advocated by HSUS and GeesePeace and funded by Congress in 2004, are not only more humane but have proven more successful over the long run.

Shockingly, some conservative pundits like Sean Hannity are now exploiting the US Airways crash to throw mud at Schumer and mock the congressional funding of New York’s urban wildlife program. Their critique, however, smells like partisan goose droppings. Although there’s a general distaste for earmarks, this project was a textbook example of how earmarks should work. The federal government did not make an open-ended commitment, but made an initial investment to develop an innovative program which is now funded and sustained by local communities.

Thanks to this funding, hundreds of volunteers were trained and tens of thousands of goose eggs were prevented from hatching. It’s become a source of pride for towns like Hempstead and Oyster Bay, which now help to spread the word to other municipalities in the region. It was the federal seed money that planted confidence in a local government that it could use nonlethal management techniques and provide its citizens with a successful, popular, environmentally sound program. Humane urban wildlife control programs prevent all sorts of problems, improve our quality of life, and reduce risks to public health and safety—they are actually a tremendous investment.

Canada-geese-flying Animal advocates have urged the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to adopt a humane goose control program on Rikers Island, which is home to a large flock of Canada geese and is also in the flight path for LaGuardia Airport. Instead, the Port Authority has hired federal agents to kill hundreds of geese by netting and gassing—which, as we saw last week, hasn’t made the skies safer.

As President Obama said in his inaugural address this week, the question “is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works.” We need innovative thinking to solve big problems and small, and that applies to urban wildlife conflicts, too. We need real leadership, such as that shown by Sen. Schumer, to find solutions that work—for people and animals. Good goose management is a wildlife success story.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Horses Out of the Gate Quickly in 111th

Every month, thousands of ex-racehorses, work horses, and family ponies are crammed into double-decker trucks where they can barely stand, and shipped hundreds of miles to Canada and Mexico. After arriving across the border, they are slaughtered for food exports to Europe and Asia, where horse meat is considered a delicacy. As Brad Woodard of Houston’s KHOU-TV exposed last month, the journey is harsh and the killing methods are brutal. Yet it still happens day after day—even though Texas and other states have banned horse slaughter, Congress has failed to shut down the cruel exports.

Horses In the first weeks of the 111th Congress, House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.) have reintroduced their bill, H.R. 503, the Prevention of Equine Cruelty Act. Previous bills to end horse slaughter have been blocked by some western lawmakers and committee chairs aligned with the agribusiness industry, but now it’s time to get the job done and put this issue to rest. Americans don’t eat horse meat and our horses are not raised for food. They shouldn’t be scooped up by opportunistic “killer buyers” when there are willing adopters and a network of horse rescues ready to assist.

Investigators from The Humane Society of the United States have documented the long-distance transport of horses to Juárez, Mexico, and the clumsy killing methods such as stabbing them in the spine. Watch this video to be reminded of the cruelty to horses that is still taking place, while agribusiness groups use stalling tactics and make the same old tired arguments about “unwanted” horses. Then take action by telling Congress to pull in the reins on this abusive, foreign-driven market, and finally pass the Prevention of Equine Cruelty Act.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Our Change Agenda for Animals

Senate confirmation hearings are in full swing this week for President-elect Obama’s Cabinet choices. Lawmakers are asking the nominees to lay out their vision for leading the federal agencies, and to explain how they will execute Obama’s plans for confronting the major challenges facing the nation.

Dog and cat2Obama’s nominees will almost certainly be confirmed by the Senate, and will assume their new posts shortly after the inauguration. But before they become immersed in the quotidian needs of running our government, we hope they will take a step back and look at the big-picture reforms that are needed.

When it comes to animal protection, more than a dozen federal agencies have a direct impact on the lives of millions of pets, farm animals, laboratory animals, and wildlife. In years past, some of these agencies have functioned largely as an annex to industry, and have been inattentive to the wishes of Americans who care about animal welfare, food safety, and environmental protection.

Rather than politics as usual, it’s time for change. The Humane Society of the United States and Humane Society Legislative Fund have developed a change agenda for animals, with 100 immediate steps the executive branch can take to advance the humane treatment of animals. Here are some of the most critical reforms needed:

  • The Agriculture Department must improve enforcement at slaughter plants, puppy mills, research laboratories, and wild animal exhibits, and crack down on abusive practices such as animal fighting, horse soring, and puppy imports. It should apply basic humane slaughter protections to poultry so that nine billion birds per year have a merciful death, and finalize its pending rule to prohibit the slaughter of downed cows who are too sick or injured to stand up. The agency should work to stop the export of horses for slaughter in other countries, and should shift the focus of its Wildlife Services program to effective nonlethal methods rather than the use of aerial gunning, cruel traps, and toxic poisons.
  • The Interior Department must renew and restore its commitment to the Endangered Species Act, and work to protect listed species and their habitat. It should reject attempts by trophy hunters to reopen the import of heads and hides from threatened polar bears, and should list the entire species of chimpanzees as endangered, bringing an end to their use in research. The agency should also revamp its Wild Horse and Burro Program, and encourage the broader use of immunocontraception and other alternatives to rounding up wild horses and holding them in pens at taxpayer expense.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency must ensure that factory farm emissions are not exempt from federal environmental laws, including new laws addressing climate change. It must also invest in promising alternatives to animal testing that offer more rapid, efficient screening of pesticides and other chemicals.
  • The Commerce and State Departments must make the protection of marine mammals and ocean life a priority both domestically and internationally, working to stop commercial whaling, seal hunts, shark finning, dolphin drive fisheries, and other abusive practices.
  • The Health and Human Services Department must expedite the retirement of all federally-owned chimpanzees to sanctuaries, honor and maintain its moratorium on breeding chimps for research, and work to phase out use of chimps in invasive experiments. It should also prioritize the development of alternatives to animals in toxicity testing, and take urgent steps to address the overuse of antibiotics for nontherapeutic purposes on factory farms.
  • The Justice Department must begin collecting data on animal cruelty crimes as a separate offense category in federal databases, so that law enforcement officials can analyze the trends and connections with other violence. The agency should also enforce the longstanding federal law limiting long-distance transport of farm animals to 28 hours or less, and create a new Animal Protection Division to ensure strong enforcement of animal protection laws.
  • The White House should appoint an Animal Protection Liaison to help coordinate animal welfare concerns (policy issues, regulations, and positions on legislation) that cut across many different federal agencies. 

Polar-bear-bigPresident-elect Obama has already indicated his support for many of the issues on our change agenda, when he filled out the HSLF presidential candidate questionnaire on pending bills and funding matters. Now it’s time for the agencies to put these ideas into action, and make a key difference in strengthening animal welfare and reducing animal suffering. You can read our entire change agenda for animals by clicking here, and join us in advocating for these much-needed reforms.

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Kindest Cut

I’ve previously observed that our deteriorating economy cuts both ways for animals—it may result in people abandoning animals or diminishing care for them, but it also may put questionable animal enterprises out of business, because they, too, are facing economic pressure. For instance, some states have terminated programs to allow the cruel and wasteful stocking of tame pheasants for target shooting.

Now, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal’s plan to balance the state’s budget includes another cut that will not only save money but also save animals’ lives. As Melinda Deslatte of the Associated Press reports, “The state agriculture department will shut down its nuisance animal control program, which traps beavers, coyotes and any other wild animals deemed a public nuisance.”

Coyote3 Such programs around the country have historically had a bias toward lethal control rather than nonlethal management, and have largely operated as a government-funded subsidy to private ranchers and other corporate interests. The federal Wildlife Services program, operated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, spent $100 million to kill 2.4 million animals in 2007. A good number of the animals were predators—bears, coyotes, foxes, bobcats, badgers, wolves, and cougars—killed with steel-jawed leghold traps, aerial gunning, sodium cyanide M-44 devices, and the toxic poison Compound 1080.

The expense of killing wildlife, however, is often more pain than gain. During one year in Montana alone, the federal government spent $1 million of taxpayer dollars to kill coyotes and other predators, when the livestock losses due to predation in the state only totaled $900,000. A report showed that cattle were more likely to be killed by weather conditions, calving problems, or illness than by predators. And it would have been more cost effective simply to compensate the ranchers for their losses, rather than engage in a taxpayer-funded predator control program.

Congress on numerous occasions has attempted to reduce the levels of funding for lethal predator control, but these cost-saving and cruelty-cutting measures have been defeated by lawmakers aligned with Big Agribusiness. U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) and former Reps. Charlie Bass (R-N.H.) and Connie Morella (R-Md.) fought with great skill to bring the issue to the House floor, but their amendments to cut lethal predator control funding were defeated by votes of 193-230 in 1999 and 190-228 in 2000.

The status quo has been in place for years, and although there has been an increase in the development of nonlethal strategies to protect livestock from predators—such as guard dogs and special fencing—ranchers have no incentive to use these humane methods because they know the government will just come to their property and kill predators for free. The problem is, it’s not free—it’s a financial burden shouldered by U.S. taxpayers, at a time when every dollar counts. And it’s not effective, either—and never will be. It’s an 18th century habit that has no place in 21st century America.

A coalition of 115 conservation, animal protection, ranching, and faith-based organizations has written to the USDA’s secretary-designate, Tom Vilsack, calling for a top-to-bottom overhaul of the Wildlife Services program. A new vision of reform is desperately needed in this arena. Shifting agency resources and cultural bias from lethal to nonlethal strategies will be more effective, less expensive, and far more humane—and will help to solve problems through innovation and balanced management, rather than through government hand-outs.

This period of economic crisis provides us with an opportunity to rethink long-held assumptions. When it comes to human-wildlife conflicts, I am quite sure we can do better at the state and federal levels than the programs built around large-scale killing of wildlife.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Unfinished Business

The 111th Congress convened this week, and new members were sworn in on Capitol Hill. It is sure to be a busy year on a wide range of subjects affecting the nation, and animal protection is no exception. Among the very first bills introduced this week were two important measures to protect wildlife—both of which passed the House of Representatives overwhelmingly last year and should be on the fast track to getting over the finish line in the new session.

Chimp The Captive Primate Safety Act, H.R. 80, was introduced by Reps. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), seeking to ban the interstate commerce in primates for the exotic pet trade. An estimated 15,000 captive primates are in private hands in the U.S., and are routinely sold as pets over the Internet. They may look cute and cuddly when they are infants, but they become aggressive and difficult to handle when they mature, and average homeowners cannot meet their unique needs for care and enrichment.

Primates bite and scratch and cause serious injury, especially to small children, and can spread dangerous diseases to people. These highly intelligent and social animals often languish in cages, and their teeth are pulled out in an effort to make them less dangerous. Because of these animal welfare concerns as well as the inherent public health and safety risks, a broad coalition of groups such as The Humane Society of the United States, Humane Society Legislative Fund, American Veterinary Medical Association, Association of Zoos and Aquariums, Jane Goodall Institute, and Born Free USA have been working to stop the pet primate trade.

Last year, the Captive Primate Safety Act passed the House Natural Resources Committee thanks to the leadership of Chairman Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) and Subcommittee Chairwoman Madeleine Bordallo (D-Guam). It was brought to the House floor in June where it passed easily, by a vote of 302-96. But a few Republicans like Reps. Lynn Westmoreland (R-Ga.) and Rob Bishop (R-Utah) made a fuss about the bill and tried to block it. They used it as a foil for their broader rants on oil drilling and gas prices, which hardly have anything to do with captive primates, and they claimed they objected because the bill would cost money and would interfere with the Congress taking up other priorities.

It was a red herring. First, Congress should be able to handle more than one bill, and acting on a piece of legislation that should require only a few minutes of floor time shouldn’t preclude other issues from being heard. And second, the bill doesn’t require any new expenditure, and doesn’t create any new obligation for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to spend anything. It provides an additional tool for law enforcement and will principally be a deterrent to discourage the sale and transport of pet primates across state lines. Wildlife agents don’t get line items for enforcement of specific laws, but rather a pot of money to use at their discretion.

The U.S. already bans the interstate trade in lions, tigers, and other big cats as pets, and adding primates to the list of prohibited species doesn’t create any new burden. What it does is help the 20 states that ban private ownership of pet primates enforce their own animal welfare and public safety laws, and stem the tide of dangerous primates being sold at auctions and over the Internet. Hardly a month goes by without another attack by a pet primate, and it’s time for Congress to put an end to this dangerous monkey business.

Shark Another important bill, the Shark Conservation Act, H.R. 81, was reintroduced this week by Chairwoman Bordallo.  It would protect vulnerable shark species from the cruel and wasteful practice of “finning,” in which tens of millions of sharks worldwide have their fins cut off at sea and are then thrown back overboard to die a lingering, painful death. Although shark finning was banned in the U.S. in 2000, Bordallo’s bill would close a major loophole that currently permits a vessel to transport fins that were obtained illegally as long as the sharks were not finned aboard that vessel. It also requires that all sharks be landed with their fins naturally attached to their bodies, strengthening enforcement in the oceans. Similar legislation advanced in the Natural Resources Committee and passed the House last July by a voice vote.

These important policy reforms to protect primates and sharks both had broad support in the Congress last year. Lawmakers should move them quickly through both the House and Senate, and make them the first animal protection bills to land on President Obama’s desk.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Dogs at Work: A Q&A with Congresswoman Linda Sánchez

LTS-and-ChavoIt’s a New Year, and many of us have made resolutions to improve our lives and the lives of others. But corporations, too, can resolve to make life better for their employees and for animals simply by creating a dog-friendly workplace. At a time when many companies are tightening their belts, here’s a way they can offer a free benefit to their employees, and give a boost to staff morale and retention.

To help employers make the transition, Humane Society Press has published a new book, Dogs at Work: A Practical Guide to Creating Dog-Friendly Workplaces, by Liz Palika and Jennifer Fearing. After The Humane Society of the United States implemented a dog-friendly policy at its own headquarters, there was an uptick in dog adoptions because staff members knew they would be able to bring their new canine companions to work.

While this may be a new concept in the private sector, it’s old hat for many lawmakers. Members of Congress have been bringing their dogs to work for years, and I rarely make a visit to Capitol Hill without petting a congressional canine. Congresswoman Linda Sánchez (D-Calif.) brings her rescued dog, Chavo, to work with her in Washington, and she recently took some time to talk with me about what it’s like to have Chavo in the office.

Michael Markarian: How long have you had Chavo and how did he come into your life?

Linda Sánchez: I adopted Chavo in 2005 because I wanted to have a dog in Washington, in addition to my two dogs back home in California. He’s a rescue beagle and he came from a shelter in Pennsylvania.

MM: When did he start coming into work with you on Capitol Hill?

LS: Chavo has always come to work with me. I don’t like leaving him at home alone, and he turned out to be a great Capitol Hill ambassador.

MM: Does he have any official duties in the office?

LS: Chavo is our unofficial greeter—happily wagging his tail and greeting tourists, the mailperson, visitors, and anyone else who walks in the office. The Capitol police even know him by name. It’s also nice to come back to my office after a hearing, or after votes, and have Chavo there waiting for me. Harry Truman himself was fond of saying, “If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.”

MM: How do constituents and other visitors react when they see a dog in the office?

LS: Sometimes people coming into the office to see me are nervous or tense. I think that seeing a dog, being able to pet Chavo, or even say hello to him, is a relaxing act. By the time they talk to me he’s calmed them down and won them over.

MM: What impact does a dog in the office have on your staff?

LS: I think having a dog in the office can be a stress-reliever. Chavo makes sure he stops by to see everyone during the day…mostly whoever is eating!

MM: Does Chavo receive any constituent letters or fan mail?

LS: Chavo has been grabbing the attention of tourists and even the media. He was in the National Journal and the Washington Post earlier this year. Before you know it, he might need his own press secretary.

MM: Do you have any policies related to having a dog in the office, such as regarding safety, hygiene, or taking Chavo for walks?

LS: There is an office policy not to feed Chavo too many treats—or else he gets spoiled. We never have a problem getting people to take Chavo out for walks. I’ll take him out between votes and some of my staffers and interns enjoy taking him around. I have taken steps to make the office dog-safe, and we keep a handy supply of lint-rollers around.

MM: Do you think if more dogs were allowed at the office it could help animal shelters by both increasing adoptions and reducing relinquishments?

LS: I am a big proponent of adopting dogs through shelters and rescue operations. Having dogs in the office might not be right for everyone, but it has certainly worked well for me. My advice to other offices, on the Hill and off, would be to try it out.

Chavo-sleeping-on-couch MM: Have you ever had any problems related to having a dog in your office?

LS: Chavo has gotten into trouble before. A couple times during important meetings in my office, Chavo noticed someone sitting in his “spot” on the couch. Each time, Chavo was interested in taking a nap and proceeded to jump up behind the person on the couch and gradually nudge her out of the way. We were all able to laugh about it later, but it was clear that Chavo was not willing to give up his nap time on his favorite spot—despite any meeting.

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