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August 2013

Friday, August 30, 2013

Desert Tortoises Buried by Spending Cuts

When Congress failed to reach an agreement on deficit–reduction legislation last year, we knew budgetary issues and sequestration cuts could negatively affect animals at some point—from the number of inspectors enforcing the law at puppy mills and research labs to the number of wild horses treated with a fertility control vaccine to prevent round-ups. We just didn’t know who would take the first big hit. Now we know one of them is the threatened Mojave desert tortoise.

The recent news of the upcoming closure of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Desert Tortoise Conservation Center near Las Vegas shines a light on the real world impact the economic crisis and congressional gridlock can have on animals.

Sulcata TortoiseThe center was opened in 1993 to house desert tortoises saved from the path of development and to use those animals to aid in the recovery of this threatened species. Built on Bureau of Land Management property, the center is partially funded by the mitigation fee housing developers pay the BLM when they disturb critical tortoise habitat.

During the Nevada housing boom, mitigation fees freely flowed, helping to fund the rescue and research center’s $1 million annual budget. But when the foreclosure crisis hit the Sun Belt, the funds that once sustained the center dried up. Because sequestration also led to a slashing of the BLM’s budget, the agency was not able to fill the gaps for the tortoise program. With few other options, the center is set to close its doors in late 2014.

As a result, new plans must be made for the 1,400 desert tortoises currently residing at the center. The FWS plans to release the healthy tortoises under its care into the wild in designated areas that will contribute to the recovery of the species over the next year. But the future of those tortoises injured or otherwise deemed not fit for release is still up in the air.

The HSUS has offered its assistance in addressing the short-term placement and long-term facility issues the tortoises are facing. Animal advocates are looking to help identify sustainable and humane solutions—such as getting the non-releasable tortoises to accredited zoos and sanctuaries and keeping them out of the inhumane exotic pet trade—as well as supporting the recovery of this important species. 

Protected or not, no more animals should suffer because of the banking and foreclosure crisis. Desert tortoises can live up to 100 years, and those lives shouldn’t be cut short because the government and the financial sector fell short of their duties.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

POTUS Pans BSL

President Obama this week announced the addition of a new First Dog, Sunny, who joins Bo as part of the First Family. We congratulate the Obamas on their new pet, and wish them years of joy and companionship. A less prominent canine-related announcement also came out of the White House this week, through its “We the People” web site, in response to a citizen petition asking the Administration to weigh in on breed-specific legislation, measures that typically seek to prohibit or penalize pit bull-type dogs or other breeds perceived as “dangerous.”

Pit bullThe official White House response succinctly states, “We don't support breed-specific legislation—research shows that bans on certain types of dogs are largely ineffective and often a waste of public resources,” and cites data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention illustrating that BSL is bad policy. The Administration is right that canine profiling doesn’t work, and just serves as a distraction from the real public safety issues that can be addressed using a multi-pronged approach to community management.

While the White House response is welcome news for pit bull-type dogs and their advocates, we hope the Administration will do more than just comment on the issue, and will take the opportunity to examine policy changes that can make a real difference for dogs. For example, at the end of 2011 the Obama Administration pledged through its “We the People” site that it would crack down on large-scale puppy mills, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture issued a proposed rule in May 2012 to require Internet puppy sellers to be licensed and inspected under the Animal Welfare Act. However, more than a year later the rule is languishing and has not been finalized.

On the BSL issue, while most policies are handled at the state and local levels, the federal government has a role to play, too. Federal housing agencies and military bases, for example, could be prohibited from banning dogs based on breed. Both public building managers and private landlords whose breed-specific policies tear families apart and leave thousands of dogs homeless, can be encouraged to adopt well-rounded guidelines for residents that incentivize pet owners to take steps toward managing their pets’ health and behavior to avoid problems, such as refundable deposits for sterilized pets, and rules about proper restraint on communal property.

Too often, policy makers learn the hard way that breed-specific laws don’t work. Misguided local officials in dog-loving communities like Watertown, Wisconsin, and Bluefield, West Virginia, have made poor decisions by trying to pass breed-specific policies that negatively impact thousands of families and place undue burden on animal welfare agencies. These leaders would better serve their communities by redirecting their focus toward increasing access to pet care and veterinary services, to prevent dog-related problems by strengthening pet ownership resources.

Thirteen states (California, Colorado, Florida, Maine, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia and Washington) have wisely prohibited municipalities from enacting breed-specific laws, recognizing that there are more effective and holistic approaches to building safe, humane communities—other states should follow this smart policy path. In 2013, Connecticut, Nevada, and Rhode Island joined the ranks of states which have rejected breed-specific legislation and the mess that follows. This trend is a positive one for dogs, families, and communities.

Maryland remains the only state in the country with poorly crafted, breed-specific dog laws in effect statewide, following a court ruling in 2012 deeming all pit bull-type dogs “inherently dangerous.” Maryland lawmakers, and anyone else considering breed as a regulatory factor, whether public or private, should take this cue from the White House and find a better way forward. State and local officials can work toward developing effective, humane approaches to managing animal issues—and the Obama Administration has an opportunity to implement important policy reforms that will protect millions of dogs, who aren’t as fortunate as Bo and Sunny.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Standing Up for State Laws

Congress is on recess in August, but facing the remaining task to iron out a final Farm Bill and decide the outcome of Rep. Steve King’s, R-Iowa, destructive provision seeking to nullify state rules relating to agricultural standards. In addition to repealing protections for farm animals, horses, sharks, and dogs, the King amendment could also wipe out of hundreds of state laws protecting food safety, crop protection, fire safety, and more.

When federal animal welfare laws are proposed in the Congress, such as legislation to make it a federal offense to bring a child to a dogfight, King often proclaims that the federal government should back out and leave such matters to the states. However, in the case of King’s Farm Bill amendment, he’s made it clear that he doesn’t want the states to have a say on these issues either. His sweeping amendment is so broad and overreaching that hundreds of state laws that have nothing to do with animals are also on King’s chopping block.

Gestation crateThat’s a primary reason the National Conference of State Legislatures sent a letter to House and Senate committee leaders urging them to strip King’s dangerous provision from the Farm Bill. In the bipartisan letter, New Hampshire Speaker of the House Terie Norelli, D-N.H., and Oregon State Sen. Bruce Starr, R-Ore.—the president and president-elect, respectively, of NCSL—write that the King amendment “would preempt vital state agricultural policies designed to protect the safety and well being of our farmland, waterways, forests and most importantly, our constituents.” They add that the King amendment “would also have significant economic effects across the states” and would target “state laws that were approved by state legislatures for the purpose of protecting the health and safety of consumers and the viability of our precious farmland and forests.”

Members of Congress are also speaking out and standing up against this political power grab. In the last few days, 23 members of the U.S. Senate signed a group letter led by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and 166 members of the House signed either a Democratic letter led by Reps. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., and Gary Peters, D-Mich., or a Republican letter led by Rep. John Campbell, R-Calif., sent to the leaders of their chamber’s Agriculture Committee expressing strong opposition to the King amendment.

This morning at the NCSL annual conference in Atlanta, state lawmakers are holding a press conference to highlight the assault on states’ rights the King amendment poses, and to call on their federal counterparts in Washington to nix this radical and dangerous provision from the final Farm Bill. And you can tell them the same. Now is the time to contact your U.S. Representative and two U.S. Senators to let them know that the King amendment to the Farm Bill has got to go.

Thursday, August 08, 2013

Out of Gas

Let’s talk about progress, and how to get there.

It goes without saying that we all want to see the day when there’s no more euthanasia of healthy and treatable pets. Few things stir greater passions—there’s so much to do because each homeless animal put to death is a tragedy, really. But let’s also remind ourselves how far we’ve come. As a movement, we’ve succeeded in driving down euthanasia of dogs and cats by 80 percent, from 15 million in the mid-1970s to fewer than three million today. With aggressive campaigns to promote shelter and rescue adoptions, with determined efforts on behalf of spaying and neutering including more targeted outreach to underserved communities, with pet retention programs to keep animals from reaching shelters in the first place, and with innovative organizational partnerships between shelters and rescue groups, the goal of ending routine euthanasia is within reach.

DogBut until we get to that point, euthanasia must be performed as humanely as possible. And one thing is clear: gas chambers do not belong in our nation’s public or private shelters. Imagine the stress and confusion for a healthy adult dog placed in the terrible confines of a gas chamber and then the door clangs shut. Then think about the effect on the old, young, sick, or injured. Simply stated, it’s impossible for this kind of euthanasia to be conducted humanely. Or with dignity.

Gas chambers take a needless toll on the physical and psychological wellbeing of staff too. Animal care workers have even been injured and killed by carbon monoxide—the colorless, odorless and tasteless toxic gas used in most shelter chambers.

Excessive financial costs further erode any conceivable justification for gas chambers. Studies have shown that operating a gas chamber is more expensive than using humane euthanasia drugs. It’s time to mothball gas chambers, period.

Indeed, we’ve been making progress toward that goal. In the past 10 months, Kansas, Pennsylvania, and Texas have all passed laws to ban gas chambers. That brings to 23 the number of states with bans or partial bans. Nearly a dozen other states have voluntarily eliminated chambers. In Mississippi, the legislature failed to pass a statewide ban, but animal welfare groups succeeded in eliminating the last chamber from the state.

There’s no exact census of how many gas chambers are actually in use. In the remaining states where gas chambers are most common—including Michigan, Missouri, North Carolina, Ohio, and Oklahoma—there may be as many as 150 or as few as three dozen. But the numbers continue to drop as The HSUS and other groups provide one-on-one support to help shelters convert to more humane methods.

Within the last two years, for example, six North Carolina shelters have voluntarily stopped using chambers. In many cases, shelters need the legal authority to license and purchase drugs used for euthanasia by injection, and after such legislation is adopted, they can dismantle their gas chambers for good.

Looking ahead, a statewide ban is under consideration in Michigan. Efforts are underway to require more humane methods in other states. At the federal level, Reps. Jim Moran, D-Va., co-chair of the Congressional Animal Protection Caucus, and Lou Barletta, R-Pa., have introduced resolutions condemning the use of gas chambers for shelter animals. HSLF will continue to support these legislative initiatives.

So our goals here are two. We are closing in on the day when the last shelter gas chamber in the United States is shut down, and let’s finish that job right away. Meanwhile, we cannot spare even a moment in our quest for the wonderful day when every adoptable cat and dog can find a forever home and euthanasia of such animals passes into history.

Friday, August 02, 2013

Senate Bill Introduced to Step Up Horse Protection

Two U.S. Senators are asking their colleagues to work with them to crack down on the rampant cruelty of “soring” in Tennessee walking horse show competitions. This week, U.S. Sens. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., and Mark Warner, D-Va., introduced the bipartisan Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, S. 1406, which will fortify the four-decades-old federal Horse Protection Act and help strengthen law enforcement efforts to stop horse abuse. 

HorsesoringSoring is the deliberate infliction of pain to the hooves and legs of show horses—applying caustic chemicals to their pasterns (ankles), inserting hard or sharp objects into their sensitive hooves, and using other painful techniques to force an artificially high-stepping gait. It’s a form of cheating that gives those who engage in this abuse a competitive edge over owners and trainers who do not, as exposed by an HSUS undercover investigation in 2012 at the training barn of Jackie McConnell, one of the breed’s most celebrated trainers caught on camera beating a horse and painting chemicals on the legs to burn his flesh.

Despite enactment of the Horse Protection Act in 1970 to outlaw soring, there remain those in the Tennessee walking horse industry who continue the abusive practice and go to great lengths to avoid detection. Decades of corrupt industry self-regulation have fostered an environment in which unscrupulous trainers and owners subject horses to torturous practices for the sake of prize money and a blue ribbon, with industry inspectors routinely overlooking soring violations and issuing weak penalties.

“Whether riding, racing, hunting or training, horses have been a part of Virginia’s culture for 400 years,” said Senator Warner. “However, owners and breeders from across the Commonwealth agree that the deliberate act of inflicting pain on horses has no place in modern equestrian competition. Senator Ayotte and I are proud to introduce the Prevent All Soring Tactics Act, which will give USDA the tools it needs to crack down on horse soring and end this cruel practice once and for all.”

“Horses hold a special place in the hearts of citizens across New Hampshire and the nation. These animals are an iconic part of our national heritage, and they must not be subjected to inhumane training practices that purposefully cause pain,” Senator Ayotte said. “This bipartisan legislation will help stop abusive tactics that deliberately harm horses, and I’m pleased to see that the bill has broad support among animal cruelty prevention organizations.”

The bill would amend the Horse Protection Act to end the industry’s failed system of self-policing, ban the use of devices implicated in the practice of soring, strengthen penalties, and make other reforms needed to finally end this torture. S. 1406 is the companion bill to H.R. 1518, introduced in April by U.S. Reps. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., and Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., which now has 140 bipartisan cosponsors. This legislation also has the support of a diverse coalition of horse industry, veterinary, and animal protection organizations, including the American Horse Council, American Saddlebred Horse Association, United Professional Horsemen’s Association, American Veterinary Medical Association, and the American Association of Equine Practitioners.

We are grateful to Sens. Ayotte and Warner for introducing this important horse protection bill, and to Reps. Whitfield and Cohen for leading this effort in the House. Please contact your Senators and Representative today, and ask them to cosponsor the PAST Act to stamp out horse abuse.

Thursday, August 01, 2013

Kiwi’s Journey: Tips for Finding a Lost Pet

The Hill’s Judy Kurtz has a touching video interview with Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, D-N.M., whose lost dog, Kiwi, is back safe with her after a 13-month absence. The 9-year-old Shih Tzu mix bolted from the congresswoman’s enclosed yard in New Mexico when she was frightened by the noise from a hot air balloon. Fortunately, Kiwi had been microchipped, and even after such a long absence, when she was brought to an Albuquerque animal hospital, they were able to track down her family.

It’s a good reminder that microchipping our pets can save their lives when they get lost, in case their collars and identification tags come off. It’s important to use both visible ID tags and microchipping, preferably with a cell phone number, and keep your contact information current for the chip’s registry—if a scanned dog’s information leads to a disconnected phone number, they won’t be able to find you. Families can register with the microchip company, and also register with universal search groups such as Found Animals.

Congresswoman Lujan Grisham says she is implementing some additional layers of protection, such as a GPS tracking device for Kiwi’s collar. (Some of my colleagues use the Tagg tracker, which attaches to your pet’s collar, allows you to monitor activity through your computer or mobile device, and sends you email notifications on their whereabouts.)

But despite your best efforts, what happens if your beloved dog or cat slips out an open door and disappears? Here are some tips from The HSUS that can help you find a lost pet:

1. Contact local animal shelters and animal control agencies. File a lost pet report with every shelter within a 60-mile radius of your home and visit the nearest shelters daily, if possible.

To find your local shelter, search online or check your phone book. If there is no shelter in your community, contact the local police department. Provide these agencies with an accurate description and a recent photograph of your pet. Notify the police if you believe your pet was stolen. Ask the shelter if they have an online lost and found service to search.

2. Search the neighborhood. Walk or drive through your neighborhood several times each day. Ask neighbors, letter carriers, and delivery people if they have seen your pet. Hand out a recent photograph of your pet and information on how you can be reached if your pet is found.

3. Advertise. Post notices at grocery stores, community centers, veterinary offices, traffic intersections, at pet supply stores, and other locations. Also, place advertisements in newspapers and with radio stations. Include your pet’s sex, age, weight, breed, color, and any special markings. When describing your pet, leave out one identifying characteristic and ask the person who finds your pet to describe it. Here are some tips on how to make an eye-catching flyer.

4. Try the Internet. These sites may be able to help you out:

Consider using a lost pet alert service such as findtoto.org to contact homes in your area. Use social media and post flyers on local and state Facebook pages for lost pets.

5. Be wary of pet-recovery scams. When talking to a stranger who claims to have found your pet, ask him to describe the pet thoroughly before you offer any information. If he does not include the identifying characteristic you left out of the advertisements, he may not really have your pet. Be particularly wary of people who insist that you give or wire them money for the return of your pet.

6. Don't give up your search. Animals who have been lost for months have been reunited with their owners—just like Kiwi coming back to Congresswoman Lujan Grisham after 13 months!

Remember that a pet—even an indoor pet—has a better chance of being returned if he or she always wears a collar and an ID tag with your name, address, and telephone number. Ask your veterinarian or animal shelter about microchips, which provide more permanent identification in case their collar and tags come off, and keep your contact info current. It made the difference for Kiwi, and can make the difference for your beloved pet, too.

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