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August 2010

Monday, August 23, 2010

Providing Assurance on Pet Insurance

My 16-year-old cat, Oliver, was diagnosed with cancer last month. It’s been a trying time for our family, as we work to get him the best treatment possible. Fortunately, Oliver has veterinary pet insurance to help cover some of the medical costs. But as we worry about our sick family member, we’re also worrying about how to navigate the byzantine nuances of the insurance industry—the deductibles and maximum payments, what’s covered and what’s not, and how many treatments are considered a single “incident.” As someone who is owned by five cats, this real-world experience has me thinking about how much consumers would benefit from public policies that provide some basic oversight of this fledgling pet insurance industry.

Oliver Markarian
My cat Oliver, who is also pictured in my blog photo.

That’s why I was disappointed to read that California Assemblyman Mike Villines, R-Fresno, who is running for the statewide Insurance Commissioner post, used time during his speech before Republican Party convention-goers this weekend to take some jabs at his opponent’s pending legislation to improve disclosures to consumers of pet health insurance. “I love my dog,” Villines said. “But that’s not the biggest issue for the state of California.”

The bill he was chiding? Assembly Bill 2411, authored by Assemblyman Dave Jones, D-Sacramento, and likely headed to Gov. Schwarzenegger’s desk. AB 2411 would—for the first time—require basic disclosures about any exclusions, coverage limits, and benefit schedules to consumers who are considering the purchase of pet health insurance. Not only is such information critical to accurately assessing and comparing competing plans, but it serves to reduce the confusion and oftentimes heartache associated with having a sick pet.

According to the 2009-2010 National Pet Owners Survey conducted by the American Pet Products Association, 62 percent of U.S. households own at least one pet, up from 56 percent in 1998. In 2010, APPA estimates that nearly $13 billion will be spent on veterinary care and another $11 billion on non-food supplies and medicines for pets. Americans spend more on their pets than they do on movies, recorded music, and video games combined.

Several insurance carriers offer pet insurance plans—ranging from all-in policies covering most routine wellness and emergency veterinary care to catastrophic/emergency only plans—and many offerings in between. Advances in veterinary medicine are providing more and better options for treating diseases and other medical conditions, and are limited in their ability to extend our pets’ quantity and quality of life only by the ability of pet owners to pay for treatment. Pet insurance plays a vital role in bridging any gaps between the desire for treatment and the financial means to pay for it.

AB 2411 is as an opportunity to put California out in front of the growing market for pet insurance, which is already growing by some estimates by as much as 45 percent per year. Pet owners who seek insurance as a way to help mitigate the cost of veterinary care deserve adequate disclosures when making their purchase decisions—not only so they can evaluate competing plans and prices but also so they are not caught flat-footed when they receive less coverage than they may be anticipating due to confusion about how the insurance product works. The last thing anyone involved in a veterinary medical emergency needs is to get embroiled in a protracted battle over who owes whom what.

This bill is supported by the insurance industry. It’s supported by humane organizations. And it’s supported by consumer protection groups. In the legislature, this bill has garnered support from Democrats and Republicans alike. In fact, Sen. Mark Wyland, R-Carlsbad, is managing the bill on the Senate floor this week. It’s a bipartisan and commonsense solution to a problem facing many California families.

We’ve heard it before from opponents of animal welfare: that lawmakers should give up on lawmaking unless they’re tackling the big issues of the day. But elected officials should be able to walk and chew gum at the same time, and should be able to pass laws that help their constituents, even while they struggle over budgets, the economy, and top-tier policy issues.

And we know that animal welfare is not the domain of either political party. There are leaders for animals on both sides of the aisle, and both the U.S. Congress and the California legislature have bipartisan animal protection caucuses. Despite the leadership shown by members of their own party, it seems that some GOP members like Villines are intent on poking a thumb in the eye of animal loving voters, whether they are Democrats, Republicans, or Independents.

A similar jab occurred last month, in response to the widely condemned shooting of a pregnant cow who was mishandled at the California State Fair, when the California Republican Party issued a statement making light of the tragedy and even suggested that inaction on the state’s budget justified the incredibly bad judgment exercised by fair and veterinary officials involved in the incident. I can’t put it better than SF Weekly reporter Peter Jamison did in his article, “Republicans tastelessly milk cow-shooting controversy”:
Cracking wise at the expense of innocent barnyard beasts killed under tragic circumstances might not seem a sure way to win the hearts of mainstream California voters. Yet that's exactly what communications officials at the state's Republican Party headquarters managed to pull off last week, with a bizarre press release that has pointlessly pissed off animal lovers—some of them elected Republican officials.

It’s time to put partisan politicking aside, and pass commonsense animal welfare reforms that appeal to voters of all political stripes. AB 2411 is just one of those policies.

Update: 7:00 p.m. PST – I’m pleased to report that the California Senate approved AB 2411 today by a vote of 27 to 9, with support from a number of Republican lawmakers. Once the Assembly concurs with amendments, this bill is off to the Governor.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Remembering Senator Ted Stevens

Former U.S. Senator Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, who died in a plane crash last week, is well-known for his 40 years of service to the state of Alaska and for his record as the longest serving Republican senator. At the Humane Society Legislative Fund, we are deeply saddened by the loss, and that will surprise many a person. While we disagreed with him on many issues through the years, including drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the use of steel-jawed leghold traps, he became demonstrably more sympathetic and active on animal welfare issues later in his life. We will remember Senator Stevens for the qualities that are perhaps lesser known to the general public and to his constituents: his compassion for animals and his determined leadership on some critical animal welfare policy reforms.

Stevens_184_1 When Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast in 2005, many citizens put themselves in danger as they refused to evacuate their flooded and destroyed homes because they didn’t want to abandon their pets. Many people were forced to leave without their pets, adding tremendous anguish for these hurricane victims who had already lost everything. According to a Zogby International Poll conducted in the aftermath of Katrina, 61 percent of pet owners would refuse to evacuate ahead of a disaster if they could not take their pets with them.

Ted Stevens saw the absence of a national policy to provide for animals in disasters, and he promptly took action. He introduced a bill with Senator Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards (PETS) Act, to require local and state disaster plans to include provisions for household pets and service animals in the event of a major disaster or emergency. The Senate and House both passed the bill unanimously, and it was signed into law by President Bush—who said that if he had to evacuate the White House and could take only one thing with him, it would be his dog, Barney.

Thanks to Senator Stevens’ active championing of this important legislation, the federal government took an important step in ensuring that Americans will never again be forced to make an impossibly difficult choice: leave their animal behind while they flee a disaster or take their chances by staying in a disaster-stricken area with their pet. Stevens’ fellow Republican from the Alaska delegation, Rep. Don Young, then-chairman of the important Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, also cosponsored the legislation and helped to shepherd it through the House. Thanks to their work and that of other policymakers, we now have a law on the books to keep people and pets together next time disaster strikes.

And it wasn’t the only time in his long career that Ted Stevens stood up for animals. He joined Senators Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., in introducing legislation to ban the slaughter of “downer” livestock—animals too sick and injured to walk on their own—and strengthen the penalties for violations of the downer ban and humane slaughter law. He voted to de-fund horse slaughter plants in the United States, and he cosponsored the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act to bar the transport of horses to slaughter. He cosponsored the Pet Safety and Protection Act to stop the trafficking of stolen pets to “random source” dealers for research. As chairman of the powerful Appropriations Committee, he supported adequate funding for the enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act, the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, the federal animal fighting law, and other animal welfare programs. When he later chaired the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, he helped to pass the Engine Coolant and Antifreeze Bittering Agent Act, to prevent the poisoning of pets and children, through that committee. And in a victory for both animals and taxpayers, he voted for a successful amendment to kill a $2 million annual subsidy for the luxury mink coat industry.

Ted Stevens had good instincts when it came to celebrating the human-animal bond and putting a stop to cruelty and abuse. We thank him for his work to make life better for God’s creatures, and we urge others to help celebrate his legacy by implementing the important animal welfare policies he championed: developing disaster plans for pets, stopping the abuse of pets, farm animals and horses, and enforcing the federal laws to safeguard the most helpless among us.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Measuring Success for Animals in Maryland

Last night, I joined more than a hundred Maryland animal advocates and several state legislators gathered at a waterside restaurant in Annapolis to unveil the new Maryland Humane Scorecard and to recognize lawmakers who have been longtime champions of animal protection legislation. This event brought together feral cat rescuers, equine enthusiasts, wildlife protectors, and other animal lovers from around Maryland who want to help build a powerful political force for animals in the Free State. We distributed the hot-off-the-presses Maryland Humane Scorecard, which is a joint project of the Humane Society Legislative Fund and Maryland Votes for Animals, and will be an invaluable tool for animal advocates in the state.

Bear We published this report to assess the support of Maryland state legislators on a broad range of animal protection issues over the 2007-2010 legislative sessions. The scorecard provides an easy way for Maryland residents to judge how their state senators and delegates have acted on animal protection measures and helps chart the progress of our public policy work on behalf of animals. Maryland citizens who care about animal protection can use this tool to find out if their elected lawmakers are representing their views in Annapolis, and to help advance the work in the state capitol in coming years to protect pets, wildlife, and farm animals from cruelty and abuse.

While there is still much to accomplish for animal protection in Maryland, there is also much to celebrate. Of the 188 members of the state legislature scored, 40 received perfect 100 percent ratings—indicating support for all scored bills. Six perfect-scoring members serve in the Senate and 34 in the House. Across both houses, 117 of the 188 members received scores of at least 75 percent; only 12 legislators scored less than 50 percent. It’s a major marker for our cause when more than one-fifth of all legislators in a state sided with animals every single time over the course of four years, and most legislators sided with animals at least three-quarters of the time.

Additionally, eight lawmakers went above and beyond and received a score of 100%+, indicating they not only voted to support animal protection legislation when they had the opportunity, but they also sponsored measures to help animals. These eight legislators were recognized last night as true champions for the animals, and I give them my special thanks: Sens. Catherine Pugh, D-Baltimore City; Jamie Raskin, D-Montgomery County; and Norman Stone, D-Baltimore County; and Delegates Jon Cardin, D-Baltimore County; Virginia Clagett, D-Anne Arundel County; Tom Hucker, D-Montgomery County; Wade Kach, R-Baltimore and Carroll Counties; and James Malone, D-Baltimore and Howard Counties.

During the last four legislative sessions in Maryland, new laws have been enacted to protect the diamondback terrapin, to strengthen penalties for attending animal fights, to ensure shelters have the drugs needed to euthanize animals humanely, and to allow the creation of pet trusts to provide lifelong care for companion animals. In addition to these new laws, Maryland lawmakers were scored for their actions on a wide range of legislation, including bills to prevent the continuous chaining of dogs, to require labeling of garments containing animal fur, and to stop the use of cruel and inhumane traps to kill wildlife.

We have much to celebrate, but more work to be done. We will continue fighting for the passage of animal protection bills in Maryland and across the country in the legislative sessions ahead. If you live in Maryland, I hope you will see how your own legislators are doing for animals and use this new tool to evaluate their performance.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

One Step Closer to Protecting Missouri’s Puppy Mill Dogs

There was good news for animals yesterday in Missouri, when Secretary of State Robin Carnahan officially certified the Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act for the November statewide election. The measure will appear as Proposition B on the ballot, and we will be working hard this fall to encourage Missouri citizens to vote Yes on Prop B.

Dog_puppy_mill_rescue_puppy_close_270x224 Thanks to the tremendous work of hundreds of volunteers in every corner of the state, Missourians for the Protection of Dogs—a coalition led by the Humane Society of Missouri, Missouri Alliance for Animal Legislation, ASPCA, and HSUS—submitted 190,127 signatures of Missouri voters in May. The Secretary of State verified 154,248 of those signatures as valid, meaning the campaign exceeded the 98,000 signatures required by more than half. The campaign also qualified in six of the state’s nine congressional districts, showing broad support across the state from St. Louis to Columbia to Kansas City to Springfield. This grassroots support propelled the successful petition drive, and Missouri voters responded to the positive message of treating dogs humanely.

Missouri’s puppy mills are cruel and inhumane, and Missouri leads the nation with about 3,000 mills in the state. It’s estimated that 40 percent of all puppy mill puppies sold in pet stores nationwide come from Missouri’s mills, where dogs are forced to live in small wire cages for years on end, and are often exposed to extremes of heat and cold. Our survey work shows that nearly nine out of ten Missouri voters support this new law, and agree that all dogs deserve humane treatment and basic standards of care.

Earlier this year, Iowa and Oklahoma enacted laws to crack down on puppy mill abuses, and after Missouri, they are the next largest puppy mill states in the country. Last year, ten states passed similar laws. Missouri has lagged far behind, as its state lawmakers are held captive by the special interest puppy mill lobby. Since the politicians have failed to act, the citizens will now have the opportunity to pass a state law protecting dogs from the worst types of cruelty.

The Missouri election will be a major priority for animal advocates this fall. We have an opportunity not only to improve the lives of hundreds of thousands of dogs in the state, but also to send a message nationwide that dogs should be treated like family pets, not like a cash crop. Please join the campaign to help spread the word in Missouri to vote Yes on Prop B this November.

Paid for by Humane Society Legislative Fund, Michael Markarian, President, 519 C St. NE, Washington, DC 20002.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Catch Highlights of the Genesis Awards This Weekend

If you didn’t get to attend The HSUS’ 24th annual Genesis Awards in Beverly Hills, or see the one-hour show broadcast on Animal Planet, you can still watch highlights of the event this weekend in the comfort of your own living room. The syndicated TV show “Animal Rescue” with Alex Paen, which airs in more than 200 media markets, will feature the Genesis highlights this weekend, August 7th and 8th. Check here to find your local station.



It’s the animals’ answer to the Academy Awards, and a star-studded event with Emily Deschanel, Jon Lovitz, Kristen Bell, Teri Hatcher, Robert Davi, Keely and Pierce Brosnan, and other celebrity presenters helping to honor people in the news and entertainment media who use their talents to advance animal protection issues. Other stars for animals at the packed gala included Los Angeles firefighter Joe St. Georges who rescued Lucky from the L.A. river during the floods, Major Brian Dennis who rescued Nubs from Iraq after the dog was maimed by insurgents, and lawmakers who are fighting for animal protection polices, including State Senator Dean Florez, State Assemblyman Pedro Nava, and Los Angeles City Councilmember Paul Koretz.

We see so much animal abuse in our work, and the worst of the human spirit when we confront “crush” videos, dogfighting, puppy mills, and other large-scale cruelties. With The Genesis Awards, we get to see the best of the human spirit, and we celebrate the victories for animals and the people who are making them happen. I hope you’ll tune into “Animal Rescue” this weekend, for a special event that will be uplifting and motivating for any animal lover. And here’s a video from the 24th Genesis Awards so you’ll know what to expect.

P.S. To keep up with the stars who are working for animal protection, check out the new Celebrities Who Support The HSUS fan page on Facebook.

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