Commenting Guidelines

    • The HSLF invites comments—pro and con. Keep them clean. Keep them lively. Adhere to our guiding philosophy of non-violence. And please understand, this is not an open post. We publish samplers of comments to keep the conversation going. We correct misspellings and typos when we find them.

« June 2013 | Main | August 2013 »

July 2013

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

It’s a Captive Jungle Out There

When private citizens keep wild animals—such as lions, tigers, bears, chimpanzees, and monkeys—as exotic pets, it never turns out well. The private possession of dangerous wild animals is a ticking time bomb for the owners and other people who live and work in their neighborhoods, and relegates the animals to wholly unnatural living conditions.

Roughly half of the states already prohibit the private possession of big cats and some or all primate species as pets, but these animals are still easily obtained over the Internet and through out-of-state dealers and auctions, making federal legislation necessary to support the efforts of state law enforcement and to promote global conservation efforts.

TigerThankfully, two new bills introduced in Congress this week demonstrate that lawmakers are taking proactive steps to stem the tide in these dangerous animals flowing into communities across the nation.

Reps. Mike Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., and Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., yesterday introduced H.R. 2856, the Captive Primate Safety Act, which would prohibit the interstate commerce in great apes, monkeys and other primates for the exotic pet trade. Similar legislation, led by Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and David Vitter, R-La., passed the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee last year, but did not make it through the full Congress.

There are an estimated 15,000 primates kept as pets in the United States. Primates of all sizes are wild animals capable of inflicting serious and sometimes catastrophic injuries. A Tennessee woman was severely injured in her own driveway by a pet macaque monkey who escaped from a neighbor's home. And it's not easy to forget the horrific incident in Connecticut, where a pet chimpanzee attacked a woman—tearing off her hands, nose, lips, and eyelids, blinding her in both eyes. It’s a risk we don’t need to take in this country.

Also, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., has just introduced S. 1381, the Big Cats and Public Safety Protection Act, which would prohibit the private possession and breeding of tigers, lions, and other big cats. The House version of the bill, H.R. 1998, was introduced in May by Reps. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., and Loretta Sanchez, D-Calif.

Tigers, lions, and other big cat species have exploded in popularity in the exotic pet trade with an estimated 5,000 to 7,000 tigers in private hands. Even when born in captivity and hand-raised, these wild animals retain their predatory instincts. They injure and kill people, as evidenced by the hundreds of attacks by big cats in the U.S. in the last two decades alone. And with the constant overbreeding to supply baby tiger and lion cubs, the adult animals are eventually dumped on government agencies and nonprofit animal sanctuaries who have to spend millions of dollars cleaning up after reckless individuals.

Keeping primates and big cats in backyards, basements, and living rooms deprives the animals of all that is natural to them. It’s bad for public health and safety, and bad for the animals who are caught up in this trade. Please contact your federal lawmakers today and urge them to co-sponsor the Captive Primate Safety Act and the Big Cats and Public Safety Protection Act.

Friday, July 19, 2013

One Letter Makes a Difference

Rep. Erik Paulsen, R-Minn., in his weekly “Correspondence Corner” video series, took a question from a constituent who emailed him in support of H.R. 847, the Puppy Uniform Protection and Safety (PUPS) Act, to crack down on abusive puppy mills. Joined by his special guest, Arbor, a rescue dog adopted by one of his staffers, Rep. Paulsen took the opportunity to answer the question from Dick in Bloomington, and talk about not only his co-sponsorship of the puppy mill legislation, but also his co-sponsorship of the Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act, H.R. 366, to make it a crime to attend or bring a child to a dogfight or cockfight. You can watch the video here (the question begins at 1:41).

When Dick took action and sent an email to his congressman, he may not have known whether it would make an impact, or whether he would even get a response. But it’s an example of just how much a single constituent letter really matters. Dick’s email prompted the lawmaker and his staff to focus their attention on animal protection policy issues and to communicate his record of support for bills cracking down on puppy mills and animal fighting to other constituents throughout the district. A single letter not only can spur action by a lawmaker, but also can start a conversation that has a ripple effect and spreads the message to others throughout the community.

So keep writing those letters, making those phone calls, and sending those emails. Find your federal and state lawmakers by typing in your zip code on our web site.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Continuous Improvement on Anti-Cruelty Laws

The Forum newspaper in Fargo-Moorhead this past weekend weighed in strongly with an editorial on North Dakota’s anemic anti-cruelty statute, saying that even with the changes in the law taking effect next month, it’s not enough to deal with cruelty cases such as two horrific incidents of dog abuse that had occurred during the prior week. The paper opined:

North Dakota’s attitudes, as reflected in law and at the Legislature, send entirely wrong signals about animal welfare. Crimes against animals, whether perpetrated on dogs, cats, horses or cows, do not carry penalties that might act as deterrents. In case after case in the state, especially when farm animals are victims, abusers most often get a slap on the wrist and a small fine. The laws are weak, and even with marginal changes made by the 2013 Legislature, the law will remain inadequate, especially when viewed in light of the number of animal welfare violations reported.

That’s well-stated, and it’s the right sentiment that lawmakers in the state need to do better. North Dakota upgraded its anti-cruelty law in April, as a follow up to last year’s Measure 5 campaign, which put the issue of animal cruelty on the public agenda and spurred action by state lawmakers. The bill was watered down by the North Dakota Farm Bureau and other agribusiness interests during the legislative process, and fell short of the comprehensive reform that was promised to voters, but it was a major step forward and put felony-level cruelty penalties on the books for the first time in the state.

Animal crueltyOn animal cruelty and fighting statutes, the test is not perfection, but whether they are moving in the right direction. In 1985, only four states had felony penalties for malicious cruelty, 15 states had felony dogfighting penalties, and seven states had felony cockfighting laws, with cockfighting still legal in six states. In recent years, HSLF, The HSUS, and other groups made a conscious decision to reshape the legal landscape on animal cruelty and fighting to show a zero tolerance policy for this conduct in our country. As a result of this focused effort, malicious cruelty is now a felony in 49 states, dogfighting is now a felony in all 50, and cockfighting was outlawed in the six remaining states—and is now punished as a felony in 40.

In many cases, the states have upgraded their laws a number of times, closing gaps in the legal framework, strengthening the penalties, addressing loopholes, and fine-tuning their animal protection laws over the years. From a historic perspective, once a state breaks through the “glass ceiling” on felony penalties—even if it’s a relatively weak second-offense or third-offense felony only for repeat offenders—it is more likely to come back and fortify the law later. Take these examples:
  • Indiana (1998), Virginia (1999), Tennessee (2001), Nebraska (2002), and Kentucky (2003) all passed second-offense felony cruelty laws, and later came back and upgraded them to first-offense felony—Indiana and Virginia in 2002, Nebraska in 2003, Tennessee in 2004, and Kentucky in 2007.
  • Alaska passed a third-offense felony cruelty law in 2008, and made it a first-offense felony just two years later in 2010.
  • Kansas upgraded its anti-cockfighting law to a high misdemeanor in 2002, and then made it a felony in 2009.
  • Texas made cockfighting a felony in 2001, but the law had major loopholes and did not prohibit spectators, the possession of birds with the intent to fight, or cockfighting implements. All three of those activities, which allowed cockfighting to thrive, were banned in 2011.
  • Nevada passed a second-offense felony cockfighting law in 2001, and upgraded it to a first-offense felony in 2013.
North Dakota has taken an important step in breaking the glass ceiling on felony cruelty, and as other states have done in the past, must continue to fortify its law to adequately protect animals from malicious abuse. When it comes to cruelty laws, it’s a process, not an event, and we must push for continuous improvement.

 

The Forum newspaper in Fargo-Moorhead this past weekend weighed in strongly with an editorial on North Dakota’s anemic anti-cruelty statute, saying that even with the changes in the law taking effect next month, it’s not enough to deal with cruelty cases such as two horrific incidents of dog abuse that had occurred during the prior week. The paper opined:

North Dakota’s attitudes, as reflected in law and at the Legislature, send entirely wrong signals about animal welfare. Crimes against animals, whether perpetrated on dogs, cats, horses or cows, do not carry penalties that might act as deterrents. In case after case in the state, especially when farm animals are victims, abusers most often get a slap on the wrist and a small fine. The laws are weak, and even with marginal changes made by the 2013 Legislature, the law will remain inadequate, especially when viewed in light of the number of animal welfare violations reported.

That’s well-stated, and it’s the right sentiment that lawmakers in the state need to do better. North Dakota upgraded its anti-cruelty law in April, as a follow up to last year’s Measure 5 campaign, which put the issue of animal cruelty on the public agenda and spurred action by state lawmakers. The bill was watered down by the North Dakota Farm Bureau and other agribusiness interests during the legislative process, and fell short of the comprehensive reform that was promised to voters, but it was a major step forward and put felony-level cruelty penalties on the books for the first time in the state.

On animal cruelty and fighting statutes, the test is not perfection, but whether they are moving in the right direction. In 1985, only four states had felony penalties for malicious cruelty, 15 states had felony dogfighting penalties, and seven states had felony cockfighting laws, with cockfighting still legal in six states. In recent years, HSLF, The HSUS, and other groups made a conscious decision to reshape the legal landscape on animal cruelty and fighting to show a zero tolerance policy for this conduct in our country. As a result of this focused effort, malicious cruelty is now a felony in 49 states, dogfighting is now a felony in all 50, and cockfighting was outlawed in the six remaining states—and is now punished as a felony in 40.

In many cases, the states have upgraded their laws a number of times, closing gaps in the legal framework, strengthening the penalties, addressing loopholes, and fine-tuning their animal protection laws over the years. From a historic perspective, once a state breaks through the “glass ceiling” on felony penalties—even if it’s a relatively weak second-offense or third-offense felony only for repeat offenders—it is more likely to come back and fortify the law later. Take these examples:

Indiana (1998), Virginia (1999), Tennessee (2001), Nebraska (2002), and Kentucky (2003) all passed second-offense felony cruelty laws, and later came back and upgraded them to first-offense felony—Indiana and Virginia in 2002, Nebraska in 2003, Tennessee in 2004, and Kentucky in 2007.
Alaska passed a third-offense felony cruelty law in 2008, and made it a first-offense felony just two years later in 2010.
Kansas upgraded its anti-cockfighting law to a high misdemeanor in 2002, and then made it a felony in 2009.
Texas made cockfighting a felony in 2001, but the law had major loopholes and did not prohibit spectators, the possession of birds with the intent to fight, or cockfighting implements. All three of those activities, which allowed cockfighting to thrive, were banned in 2011.
Nevada passed a second-offense felony cockfighting law in 2001, and upgraded it to a first-offense felony in 2013.

North Dakota has taken an important step in breaking the glass ceiling on felony cruelty, and as other states have done in the past, must continue to fortify its law to adequately protect animals from malicious abuse. When it comes to cruelty laws, it’s a process, not an event, and we must push for continuous improvement.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Senate Committee Comes Through on Animal Welfare Funding

Though the work is far from done, this is shaping up to be a very encouraging year for animals on the appropriations front. We already reported on the House Appropriations Committee’s approval of solid funding levels to support USDA’s enforcement of key animal welfare laws, as well as its inclusion of much-needed language to stop horse slaughter plants from operating in the U.S. The Senate Appropriations Committee followed suit with parallel language de-funding USDA inspections at horse slaughter plants.

Horse slaughterNow we’ve learned that the Senate Appropriations Committee has also come through with terrific news on funding for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s enforcement and implementation of key animal welfare laws. Thanks to the strong leadership of Chairman Mark Pryor, D-Ark., and Ranking Member Roy Blunt, R-Mo., the Committee bill contains the full amounts requested by President Obama in his recommended budget for Fiscal Year 2014—which include substantial increases for several programs, notwithstanding the pressure to cut spending overall. The committee understood that it’s possible to achieve macro-level cuts while still taking care to ensure that specific small and vital accounts have the funds they need. 

Here are details of what the Senate committee approved:
  • $893,000 for USDA’s enforcement of the Horse Protection Act to end the cruel practice of “soring” show horses (deliberately inflicting severe pain on the horses’ legs and hooves to make it hurt for them to step down, so they will exaggerate their high-stepping gait and win prizes). This is well above the current funding level of $678,510, as well as the House committee bill’s level of $500,000.
  • $28,203,000 for USDA’s enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act, which sets basic standards for care of animals at almost 28,000 sites across the country—commercial breeding facilities (including puppy mills), laboratories, roadside zoos, circuses, and airlines. Current funding of AWA oversight is $26,406,304 and the House committee bill provides $27,087,000.
  • $16,350,000 for USDA’s Investigative and Enforcement Services division, whose responsibilities include investigation of inspectors’ findings regarding alleged violations of federal animal welfare laws and the initiation of follow-up enforcement actions. Current funding is $15,866,009 and the House committee bill provides $16,275,000.
  • $89,902,000 for USDA’s Office of Inspector General, which covers many areas including investigations and audits of the agency’s enforcement efforts to improve compliance with the Animal Welfare Act, Horse Protection Act, Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, and regulations to protect downed animals. The Senate committee report specifically flags the OIG’s work to address animal fighting violations under the AWA, in coordination with state and local law enforcement. Current funding for the OIG is $86,779,028 and the House bill provides $86,779,000.
  • Helpful committee report language directing the Food Safety and Inspection Service to ensure that funds provided for Humane Methods of Slaughter Act enforcement will be used to ensure compliance with humane handling rules for live animals as they arrive and are offloaded and handled in pens, chutes, and stunning areas. Similar language is in the House committee report and was included last year for FY13 Agriculture Appropriations.
  • $4,790,000 for the veterinary student loan program that helps ease the shortage of veterinarians practicing in rural communities and in government positions (such as those overseeing humane slaughter, AWA, and HPA rules), by repaying student debt for those who choose to practice in one of these underserved areas. Current funding is $4,669,627 and the House bill provides $4,790,000.
Whether an animal welfare law will be effective often turns on whether it gets adequately funded. Having legislators seek that funding is crucial, especially when there are such strong competing budget pressures.  We are grateful to Senators Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and David Vitter, R-La., who reached out to their colleagues and mobilized a broad showing of 34 Senators voicing bipartisan support for these animal welfare funds, as did Reps. Chris Smith, R-N.J., and Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., marshaling the support of 164 Representatives in the House. Their collective efforts set the stage for positive committee action, which in turn has put us in a strong position for good outcomes in the House-Senate negotiations. 

We will continue to watch the appropriations process closely and press for the highest possible amounts when the House and Senate reach agreement on the final legislation. Proper enforcement of these laws not only helps animals but benefits people, too—for example, by protecting consumers from disreputable puppy mills and from mishandling of pets on airlines, reducing food safety risks associated with poor management at slaughter plants, and reducing the risk of bird flu transmission via cockfighting. Our fortunes are intertwined with those of animals, and doing right by them is good policy for all of us.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Don't Tank the Shark Finning Laws

A bipartisan group of 62 House members—led by U.S. Reps. Jared Huffman, D-Calif., and Grace Meng, D-N.Y.—sent a letter to the Obama Administration urging it to revise a proposed federal rule that could undermine state bans on buying or selling shark fins. When they previously served as state legislators, Huffman and Meng led the efforts in California and New York, respectively, to ban the trade in shark fin products. Those states (the New York bill is awaiting Gov. Cuomo’s signature), along with Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Oregon, Washington, and the U.S. territories of Guam, American Samoa, and Northern Mariana Islands, have adopted policies to crack down on finning by drying up the demand for shark fins within their borders.
 
SharkCongress passed the Shark Conservation Act of 2010, which strengthens the federal law against shark finning—the brutal practice of hacking the fins off sharks, often while they’re still alive, and throwing the mutilated animals back overboard to die slowly in the ocean. Shark finning had been illegal in U.S. waters since 2000, but major loopholes in the law rendered the ban unenforceable. For example, ships were allowed to transport fins obtained illegally as long as the sharks were not finned aboard that particular vessel. The new federal law requires that sharks be landed with their fins still naturally attached, the only sure way to enforce a domestic ban on finning.

But in addition to proposing regulations to implement the new law, the National Marine Fisheries Service, shockingly, has proposed to preempt states and territories from passing complementary laws to combat shark finning. It goes way beyond what Congress intended with the Shark Conservation Act, which deals with the act of finning sharks at sea, not the trade in shark products within the U.S.
 
Both federal and state laws are needed to do everything we can to curb the killing of up to 73 million sharks each year for shark fin soup. Today, one-fifth of shark species are threatened with extinction, and some populations have declined 90 percent in the last 30 years. Sharks are apex predators who play an essential role in marine ecosystems. The cruel and ecologically devastating practice of shark finning endangers their survival—and that of the species that rely on them.
 
The U.S. has a major role to play, as it’s the largest market for shark fins outside Asia. Trade data indicates that more than 90 percent of our shark fin imports come from Hong Kong, which receives and processes fins from more than 80 countries. Once imported into the U.S. it’s very difficult to tell by looking at a processed, treated shark fin sold here what species or country it’s from, or whether it’s from an illegal or overfished fishery—and it’s impossible to tell whether those fins came from a shark subjected to the cruel practice of finning. The federal prohibitions on shark finning are important, but they cannot and do not address the fact that local markets for shark fin products within the U.S. are primarily supplied from fins that are not produced in U.S. waters and other areas where bans on finning are in place.

As states ban the sale of this product, and consumers and chefs choose alternatives in restaurants and banquet halls, we can reduce the demand for this cruel and wasteful killing and turn the problem around for sharks. We can’t allow the continued mass slaughter of these important ocean predators just for a bowl of soup. Contact the Obama Administration today and tell them we can’t allow NMFS to turn back the clock on shark protection.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013

The War on Wolves: Who Are the Real Predators?

The Chicago Tribune weighed in with an editorial this weekend on the Obama Administration’s latest in a series of proposals to strip recovering gray wolves of their federal protections—leaving the fate of wolves to the blood lust of hostile state politicians and trophy hunting and ranching interests. More than 1,000 wolves have been killed with painful steel-jawed leghold traps, hound hunting, and other methods since Wisconsin, Minnesota, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming legalized hunting seasons—including storied Yellowstone National Park wolves whose packs had been studied for decades, but were gunned down in their GPS collars over the park border.

WolvesAs if that wasn’t bad enough, Montana officials now propose lengthening the wolf hunting season and increasing the bag limit. It’s alarming to Yellowstone administrators who say it places more of the park’s wolves in jeopardy when they step over the border into Montana—putting the Department of the Interior in the awkward position of handing wolf management to the states and then watching from the sidelines as they kill the very descendants of the wolves reintroduced to the park 17 years ago. And just last month, Wisconsin raised its quota to 275 wolves which, when combined with other forms of human-caused wolf mortality, likely will result in 50 percent of the entire wolf population in the state being killed—despite the fact that Wisconsin voters oppose wolf hunting by a more than eight-to-one margin.

You’d think the pogrom for wolves in the Northern Rockies and Great Lakes regions would cause the Obama Administration to pause before adding to the carnage. But the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has announced its plans to drop endangered species protections for the gray wolf population in virtually all of the lower 48 states, with the exception of about 75 wild Mexican wolves in Arizona and New Mexico.

Some states have set up sound, capable management plans for wolves—such as Washington, which this year passed legislation to create a state gray wolf conflict account to be used for mitigation, assessment, and payments for injury or loss of livestock caused by wolves. But many others have taken a regressive, dangerous approach. The Utah legislature even handed out hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to a private group to advocate for killing wolves. Instead of hoping for the best from a patchwork of state authorities subject to varying degrees of political power exerted by ranching and hunting interests, the federal government should be overseeing and working with the states and driving the nation toward full recovery of wolves.

The Tribune is urging concerned citizens to submit comments to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service by visiting this web site before the September 11 deadline, and urging the agency to keep protections intact for one of America’s most ecologically valuable creatures.

Meanwhile, in Michigan, state politicians are so dead-set on killing wolves that they pulled a fast one on voters who gathered more than 250,000 signatures to place the question of wolf hunting on the ballot. Michigan lawmakers passed a second bill, signed into law by Gov. Rick Snyder, to subvert a vote of the people and allow wolf hunting, after their first bill was the subject of a citizen referendum. They want to take the power to decide wildlife issues away from the state’s voters, and put it in the hands of seven unelected bureaucrats—paving the way to kill wolves and other protected species.

But Michigan citizens are fighting back against this undemocratic power grab, and have launched a second referendum campaign to stop the trophy hunting and trapping of wolves and restore the right of Michigan voters to weigh in on critical wildlife issues. With the bodies of wolves piling up around the country, Michigan citizens are taking a stand for these rare and majestic treasures. You can join them by visiting the Keep Michigan Wolves Protected campaign.

Get Political
for Animals




Powered by TypePad