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April 2009

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Deal Dogs a Winning Hand

It’s a consensus position that dogfighting is abusive and unacceptable, and an important part of our work at The HSUS and HSLF involves strengthening the state and federal laws to combat this practice. But it’s not enough just to wrestle down the cruelty and put people in jail when it occurs—we also need to reach out to young people and make sure they don’t get lured into the world of dogfighting in the first place.

281x167_kid_and_pitbull In 2006, The HSUS launched an innovative grassroots program to target dogfighting in urban neighborhoods of Chicago. Our ambassadors talk to young men at risk for getting involved in this crime, and interrupt dogfights in progress on the streets. We give them alternatives to dogfighting, such as pit bull training classes that showcase pit bulls as friends, not fighters. We improve the lives of the young men who learn to celebrate the human-animal bond, and we improve the welfare of dogs through vaccinations, doghouse giveaways, and other community events.

The program has been so successful in Chicago, that we’re expanding it to Atlanta and Los Angeles. And I’ll be attending a very special Hollywood event on May 9th for the official kickoff of The HSUS’s “End Dogfighting in Los Angeles” campaign. This elegant evening, dubbed “Casino Royale: Playing for Change,” is co-sponsored by PokerStars, and will feature casino games, a celebrity poker tournament, gourmet food, a martini and wine bar, and a silent auction. Tickets start at $350 each and include chips to all casino games.

A number of celebrities will join us at the casino event, including Corey Feldman, Jorja Fox, Matt Grant, Bill Maher, Charlotte Ross, Hal Sparks, and Michael Vartan. And a special celebrity poker tournament will feature PokerStars pro Greg Raymer, who won an historic $5 million prize in the 2004 World Series of Poker; actor Vince Van Patten, the King of the Hollywood Home Game and host of the World Poker Tour; and actress Shannon Elizabeth, the winner of multiple tournaments.

There are a few seats left at the table, and you can bid online for a chance to play with these poker paladins. It’s a unique opportunity to go head-to-head with five celebrity poker players and four other winning bidders. The tournament winner will be eligible for a prize package valued at $15,000—and can choose a PokerStars Caribbean Adventure or a seat at the Las Vegas World Series of Poker.

Dogfighting not only claims the lives of tens of thousands of dogs each year, but also brings violence and drug trafficking to our communities, and ruins the lives of young men who start down this dead-end path. Make a sure bet and help us provide a more positive environment for people and dogs, in Los Angeles and in all communities impacted by this crime. Join me at “Casino Royale: Playing for Change” on May 9th, and go all in for animals.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Boots on the Ground for Animals

As everyone knows, money talks. Whether an animal welfare law will be effective often turns on whether it gets adequately funded. And that spending is vital even when it comes in the worst economic times since the Great Depression. Our fortunes are intertwined with those of animals, and proper enforcement not only helps these creatures but also helps to improve food safety, public health, disaster preparedness, and other social concerns.

Pitbullstill Thanks to the leadership of Congressmen Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) and Chris Smith (R-N.J.), a strong bipartisan group of 135 representatives—nearly one-third of the U.S. House—has submitted a letter to the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee requesting funds to improve enforcement of key animal welfare laws in Fiscal Year 2010. These funds are critically needed to implement and enforce the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, the Animal Welfare Act, the federal animal fighting law, and programs to help prepare for the needs of animals in disasters and to address the shortage of veterinarians in rural and inner-city areas and public health practice.

Now, Senators Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and David Vitter (R-La.) are leading a parallel effort in the U.S. Senate. Please urge your two senators to co-sign the Senate animal welfare funding group letter being circulated by Senators Levin and Vitter, or make their own individual requests, before the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee’s deadline of May 8th. Click here to find your two U.S. senators and their phone numbers.

This is just the latest installment in a multiyear effort. The HSUS and HSLF have been steadily building the enforcement budgets for these laws, recognizing that laws on the books won’t do animals much good if they’re not enforced. For example, over the past ten years, we’ve succeeded in boosting the annual funding for enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act by 135% (a cumulative total of $71 million in new dollars to the program). Today, there are 111 USDA inspectors, compared to about 60 inspectors during the 1990s, to help ensure basic humane treatment at thousands of puppy mills, research laboratories, zoos, circuses, and other facilities.

If your U.S. representative signed the House funding letter, please take a moment to call and express thanks. It's important to give positive feedback to those who take action on behalf of animals. You can reach your representative through the Capitol switchboard at 202-224-3121, or click here to look up the office phone number. And please be sure to ask your two U.S. senators to sign onto the Senate letter before May 8th.

Thanks to your work, Congress can put more boots on the ground to protect animals from cruelty and abuse. It’s an investment in the animals’ future—and our own.

 

Thursday, April 23, 2009

An Ounce of Python Prevention

“Swamp Things,” a fascinating article by Burkhard Bilger in the April 20 issue of The New Yorker, describes how the exotic pet industry has helped transform the state of Florida into “a biological cesspool of introduced life.” As fads of exotic birds, reptiles, and primates have come and gone, nonnative species have established themselves in the wild—transported by hurricanes or deliberately set loose by their owners. As Bilger explains:

On a single tree you could conceivably find plants and animals from six continents, including parrots from South America, mynah birds and Old World climbing ferns from Asia, vervet monkeys from Africa, ladybird beetles from Australia, and feral cats from Europe, via Africa and Asia…The state’s ecology is a kind of urban legend come true—the old alligator-flushed-down-the-toilet story repeated a thousand times with a thousand species.

There have been well-known cases of exotic species that should never have been introduced in the U.S.—whether they are the zebra mussels, the snakehead fish, or the Gambian rats that caused the 2003 multistate monkeypox outbreak. But the biggest problem for Florida is the new population of Burmese pythons living in the Everglades. These former “pets” can grow more than 20 feet long, weigh 200 pounds, and swallow an entire leopard.

BurmesepythonSuch ecological invasions can be prevented by a new bill being considered in Congress. The House Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, Oceans and Wildlife today held a hearing on H.R. 669, the Nonnative Wildlife Invasion Prevention Act. Introduced by Subcommittee Chairwoman Madeleine Bordallo (D-Guam), a great friend to animals, the bill would set up a process for evaluating exotic wildlife species to determine whether they should be allowed or prohibited for importation and interstate commerce. The legislation is endorsed by The Humane Society of the United States, Humane Society Legislative Fund, Defenders of Wildlife, National Audubon Society, The Nature Conservancy, Union of Concerned Scientists, and a number of other conservation and animal protection groups.

Some pet industry groups are yelping and howling over the proposal, claiming it will end all pet ownership. We hear this rhetoric all the time from our opponents who can’t defend inhumane practices on their merits, so they concoct some “slippery slope” justifications—they say that curbing abuses at puppy mills will end all dog breeding, that phasing out confinement of farm animals in crates and cages will end all agriculture, that toughening the anti-cockfighting laws will eliminate the right to own roosters. But they’re barking up the wrong tree.

First, the bill is aimed at exotic wildlife, not domestic household pets. It includes a specific exemption for cats, dogs, rabbits, goldfish, and horses. And the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is allowed to add more exempted species as it sees fit. The HSUS and HSLF are specifically requesting that hamsters, gerbils, guinea pigs, and ferrets be added to the exempted list.

Second, the legislation wouldn’t ban any species immediately upon passage. It allows the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to start a process, based on scientific information with public input, to determine whether an exotic wildlife species is harmful or not. During that process, which will take three years, there would be no restrictions on trade. If a species is then determined to be harmful, it would be added to the prohibited list.

AlbinopythonThird, the bill grandfathers in any current exotic pets. So if a wildlife species is determined to be harmful and banned in the future, it would halt imports and interstate trade from that point forward. People who already own those animals would not have them taken away.

As Chairwoman Bordallo said, this morning’s hearing “should be seen as a starting point for a very important discussion. How can we proactively manage the influx of invasive species and reduce the economic and environmental costs associated with their establishment in the wild, but also be sensitive to legitimate concerns regarding the species that would be affected and realistic about the practicalities of implementation.”

The fact is, this is a common-sense reform that takes a proactive approach. Hundreds of millions of wild animals are arriving in the U.S. at an alarming pace through Miami, Los Angeles, and other points of entry. By the time invasive species establish themselves here, it’s often too late to do anything about the problems—and attempts at doing so, even while tilting at windmills, are costly and inhumane. Preventing wild animals from entering this country in the first place, if they are determined to be dangerous, is better for the environment, the economy, public health, and animal welfare.

Contact your members of Congress and ask them to support H.R. 669. Tell them when it comes to nonnative wildlife, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Giving Rare Species a Place on Our Planet

One of the quiddities of the U.S. Congress is that it’s slow by design. Bills have to make it through both the House and the Senate, via committee process and floor action in both chambers. That’s why more than 10,000 bills are introduced in a two-year congressional session, and only 4 to 5 percent actually become law.

Clouded_leopard There were several important wildlife protection measures that passed the House during the 110th Congress, but then stalled in the Senate. Those bills were reintroduced at the very start of the 111th Congress for quick action, and two of them—the Captive Primate Safety Act and the Shark Conservation Act—passed the House again earlier this year. The House is scheduled to vote on two more bills today that are considered unfinished business from last time around—a pair of important bipartisan policies that would help protect rare species of mammals and birds around the world.

H.R. 411, the Great Cats and Rare Canids Act—introduced by Reps. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.), John Tanner (D-Tenn.), Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), and Ed Royce (R-Calif.)—will provide financial resources for conservation programs to protect rare dog and cat species outside North America. A Senate version of the bill, S. 529, was introduced by Sens. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Sam Brownback (R-Kan.). Species such as jaguars, clouded leopards, and African wild dogs are declining drastically due to habitat loss, poaching, disease, and human-wildlife conflict. This conservation funding will be a critical lifeline for rare dogs and cats ranging from the Ethiopian wolf to the Iberian lynx.

H.R. 388, the Crane Conservation Act—introduced by Reps. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Ginny Brown-Waite (R-Fla.)—will do the same for imperiled crane populations both here at home and across the globe. A Senate version of the bill, S. 197, was introduced by Sens. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) and Mike Crapo (R-Idaho). Cranes are the most endangered family of birds in the world, victims of pesticide, power lines, human encroachment, and even wars. Eleven of 15 species are at risk of extinction, and the North American whooping crane is the rarest of all cranes.

As Congresswoman Baldwin said, “Wisconsin has been a world leader in protecting this endangered family of birds. With federal support, the work done at the International Crane Foundation in Baraboo can inspire and instruct conservationists at home and abroad in their efforts to protect this magnificent species.”

Whooping_Crane_lg2 The Multinational Species Conservation Fund already includes grant programs to help imperiled species—including Asian and African elephants, great apes, marine turtles, rhinoceroses, tigers, and neotropical migratory birds. Now, two separate accounts would be added to the fund specifically to assist cranes and rare dogs and cats.

Some reforms are so evident that there really is not a debate in society about the right course of action. Who could possibly think that Cape hunting dogs or black crowned cranes do not deserve a place on our planet, or jaguars or snow leopards for that matter? We hope today that the House approves these measures, and that Senate action follows swiftly. These are major advances in the waiting, and I extend our thanks to Natural Resources Committee Chairman Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.), and Insular Affairs, Oceans and Wildlife Subcommittee Chairwoman Madeleine Bordallo (D-Guam) and Ranking Member Henry Brown (R-S.C.), who have made passage of these measures a priority when the species need our help the most.

 

Friday, April 17, 2009

Writing Off Fido and Fluffy

Ben Stein has some advice on how to get through the worst economic times since the Great Depression: Get a dog.

Support_Pet_Adoptions Now thanks to a California lawmaker, adopting a dog might be not only good for your morale, but also good for your pocketbook. In an effort to help animal shelters across the state that are teeming with near-record numbers of relinquished pets, Assemblyman Cameron Smyth (R-Santa Clarita) has introduced Assembly Bill 233. The legislation would allow California taxpayers to write off up to $100 of the cost of adopting an animal from a municipal, county, or nonprofit animal shelter or qualified rescue organization. It would become effective January 1, 2010 and last for five years.

While the tax break cannot address all that ails our homeless pets and the agencies looking out for their interests, it is a relatively inexpensive and efficient way to send a strong message to California taxpayers: that never before has their compassion been more critical to improving the chances for animals who have done nothing wrong other than prove too expensive for their downtrodden owners. AB 233 asks Californians to help out, and by promoting the benefits—to the animals and to the government and charitable sectors—of adopting dogs and cats, the deduction would increase the ability of municipal and charitable animal protection organizations to continue their life-saving work.

How can the state of California—already burdened with a multi-billion dollar budget shortfall—afford to forego the estimated $1 million per year this tax deduction would cost? The question is how can the state afford not to.

According to The HSUS’s chief economist, Jennifer Fearing, who is working to pass the bill in Sacramento, the ultimate fiscal impact of AB 233 will be driven by the extent to which Californians respond to the call to help, and the more they respond, the more positive the impact will be on local government and nonprofit sheltering costs (lower), their revenue (higher), stimulating consumer spending (more), and saving animal lives (more). Rather than distributing additional government funds to all animal shelters, a tax deduction puts the power in the taxpayers’ hands—and to the extent they choose to adopt, they will be rewarded (however modestly) by the state for doing so.

Making pet adoption fees tax-deductible will have a positive impact on the outcomes for pets who land in shelters. It is a recognized principle of tax policy that an income tax deduction for charitable donations promotes charitable behavior—often in excess of what may be expected given the actual dollar value associated with the deduction. As such, even though the dollar amount per taxpayer granted by AB 233 is small, its impact for the animals involved could be significant. Government sends a strong signal to citizens and the mere fact that an expenditure is deemed deductible increases public awareness of the behavior and of the “right” choice.

CA_pet_adoptions In addition to the potential for reduced local government costs associated with increased adoption rates and lower animal holding, we must also consider the tremendous economic impact of pet ownership. To the extent that AB 233 promotes pet adoptions among taxpayers who would otherwise not become pet owners, the bill could yield significant economic returns in the form of stimulated spending.

The average pet owner annually spends $1,425 per dog and $990 per cat. To stimulate as much economic activity as the estimated cost of AB 233’s tax expenditure, the new deduction would only have to prompt 4,141 new pet adoptions over five years—or 828 more per year. This is an increase of less than one-half of one percent in the number of animals adopted statewide in 2007—and certainly a modest estimate of this deduction’s impact on behavior. 

Additionally, fees paid for pet adoptions go directly back to the municipality, further offsetting the costs of animal care and control. With approximately 800,000 California animals entering city and county shelters each year, with an annual cost of more than $100 million spent to house animals who ultimately are euthanized, AB 233 presents an opportunity to increase revenue to offset these significant annual local expenditures—saving tax dollars and saving animal lives.

These are tough times indeed, but by allowing a tax write-off for Fido and Fluffy, we will help ensure that they won’t be written off at the shelters. Adopting a pet can be good for the economy and good for taxpayers—but most importantly, it’s good for your soul. Many trends start in California—let’s hope that Assemblyman Smyth’s foresighted policy initiative becomes one that spreads to other states.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Stamp Out Extinction

Bengal_tigerIn an era of shrinking government budgets, lawmakers are seeking out new revenue streams to help fund critical social programs. That’s why a new bill introduced by Congressman Henry Brown (R-S.C.) and Congresswoman Madeleine Bordallo (D-Guam) is a good deal for endangered species and for taxpayers.

H.R. 1454, the Multinational Species Conservation Funds Semipostal Stamp Act, would create a new stamp that the U.S. Postal Service would sell at a premium price to raise additional funds for international wildlife conservation. Congress has created a number of special funds to finance programs around the world that aid African and Asian elephants, great apes, marine turtles, rhinoceros, tigers and neotropical migratory birds. These critical projects receive some federal funding, but the conservation of imperiled species would be greatly enhanced by an infusion of more resources.

The legislation is modeled on the highly successful efforts to raise funds to combat breast cancer. Since 1998, the USPS has sold 802 million breast cancer semipostal stamps to the public and has raised an impressive $59.5 million from such sales. 

Stamp In fact, it wouldn’t be the first time a postage stamp has raised awareness about an animal protection issue. Back in 1966, a five-cent stamp showed a lithograph of a lounging mutt named Babe underscored by the words “Humane Treatment of Animals.” Then in 2001, the USPS unveiled a commemorative “Neuter or Spay” first-class stamp, featuring a puppy named Kirby and a kitten named Samantha, and educating millions of stamp users about the importance of spaying and neutering their pets to help prevent overpopulation and euthanasia of homeless dogs and cats.

Ask your members of Congress to support H.R. 1454, so some of the most endangered and charismatic species on Earth will have a better chance of survival. And until those new wildlife stamps become available, you can check out Zazzle.com for a number of postage stamps that benefit HSUS programs such as promoting pet adoption and spaying and neutering, and stopping dogfighting and seal hunting. You can even upload a photo of your own pet, and show everyone that the furry face of your loved one is really first-class.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Legislation, All I Ever Wanted

Congress is on spring recess this week and next, and it provides an opportunity for animal advocates to spring into action. You may not be able to travel to Washington to meet with your representatives and senators in person, but you can meet with them in their district and state offices close to home. In fact, lawmakers often have more time to visit with constituents in their district offices, because their Washington schedules are so hectic.

PATRIOTIC-PUP

Take the time to schedule a meeting with them over the next two weeks, and talk to them about federal animal protection policies that are important to you. With bills pending on horse slaughter, puppy mills, fur labeling, chimps in research, and more, the timing couldn’t be better. You can also invite them to learn more about animal protection work by taking them on a tour of your animal shelter, pet adoption center, spay/neuter clinic, wildlife sanctuary, or other local program.

Here are some tips from my friend Stephanie Vance, adapted from her book "Government by the People: How to Communicate with Congress”:

Don’t ignore the District / State Congressional Office. We all know that in order to be successful, advocates must build positive long-term relationships with their Representatives and Senators. One terrific means of doing so is to engage the district or state office in your issues.

Generally, district or state staff may have slightly more time to delve more into the nuances of your issues and understand better how those issues affect the Congressperson’s constituents. In fact, an effective advocate can turn the district staff into a “lobbyist” for them within the Congressional organization. It’s also important to know that every Representative has a “home-style” and a “DC-style”.

Frankly, many Representatives are much more relaxed and receptive in their home districts. So be sure to meet with the Member and/or their staff in the district office. Or, invite the district staff to an event or a tour of your facility – any activity that will get them involved in your issues and policy concerns. Finally, associations, business groups, or other organizations might want to consider having a “District/State Lobby Day” in addition to the traditional Washington, DC lobby day. This would be a day designated for association members to meet with their federal representatives in their home offices.

So if your spring break is a “staycation,” stay in touch with your federal lawmakers close to home, and keep them informed of critical bills to protect animals from cruelty and abuse.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

NRA Has No Dog in This Hunt

The National Rifle Association says it’s about defense of the Second Amendment. But more and more, it’s about doing harm to man’s best friend.

Puppies_1It started late last year, when Ohio state Sen. Gary Cates (R-West Chester) and state Rep. Shawn Webster (R-Millville), a veterinarian, made a final end-of-session push for their bill that would have increased dog-license fees and required county dog shelters to keep dogs with microchips for a longer period so the owner might be found. The NRA came in at the last minute and gunned down the legislation.

Sen. Cates told the Columbus Dispatch: “The NRA got brought in by the breeders and their lobbyists. I did not have my first conversation with the NRA until yesterday. At no time did they testify on the bill. But the well got poisoned, and I couldn’t get enough votes to pass it.”

In the 2009 legislation session, the gun group has been going state to state setting its sights on public policies that would crack down on abusive puppy mills. They actively lobbied against an Arizona bill requiring that puppy mill producers are subject to inspections by county enforcement agents at any time during regular business hours. They are working hard in Indiana and Minnesota to derail bills that would limit the number of dogs confined in puppy mill cages and set basic standards of care for exercise, flooring, and veterinary treatment. The Arizona and Minnesota bills have been shelved, and an NRA-backed amendment would gut Indiana’s legislation.

Hunting_dog_1 It’s a mystery why the NRA cares so much about defending the status quo when it comes to puppy mills. It can’t be a core issue for gun owners. The NRA claims that the puppy mill bills would impact hunting dogs, but surely most sportsmen would want their dogs raised humanely by responsible breeders, not treated like a cash crop. A dog who lives in a filthy wire cage with no exercise, socialization, or human interaction might not end up being a very good hunting partner out in the field, after all.

It may just be that the NRA has a knee-jerk opposition to any animal protection issue, no matter how modest or common-sense. Or the group may be fighting to be relevant again, as it fired blanks in the last election cycle.

One thing is for certain: The NRA’s extreme obduracy will weaken the organization in the minds of mainstream voters. Gun-owning Americans do not favor animal cruelty and other reckless behavior toward animals. When the group reflexively defends practices such as puppy mills, the use of toxic lead ammo, and the black market trade in bear parts, it is way out-of-step with middle America—and with its own gun-owning constituents. The NRA will shoot itself in the foot by chasing its supporters, lawmakers, and core voting blocs in the opposite direction.

And that puts the NRA exactly where it deserves to be—lumbering backwards to the past.  

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