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May 2015

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Make a PACT to Stop Animal Cruelty

In the mid-1980s, only four states—Massachusetts, Michigan, Oklahoma, and Rhode Island—had felony-level penalties for malicious cruelty to animals. But today, all 50 states have such a policy, and there’s a national consensus that vicious acts of animal abuse and torment should be treated as a serious crime.

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At the federal level, too, it’s a felony to organize or train animals for dogfighting or cockfighting and a misdemeanor to attend an animal fight.

There is also a federal ban on the trade in obscene video depictions of live animals being crushed, burned, drowned, suffocated, impaled, or subjected to other forms of heinous cruelty in perverse “snuff” films. This ban was recently upheld on appeal.

But while the images and video depictions of cruelty are illegal under federal law, the underlying conduct of the cruelty itself is not.

Today, Congressmen Lamar Smith, R-Tex., Ted Deutch, D-Fla., Tom Marino, R-Pa., and Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., introduced the Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture (PACT) Act, H.R. 2293, to close this loophole.

This important new legislation will strengthen the animal crush video law and prohibit those same extreme acts of animal cruelty when they occur in interstate or foreign commerce. It would complement the federal animal fighting statute and the felony cruelty laws in all 50 states.

The PACT Act would also provide prosecutors with a valuable additional tool when animal cruelty is occurring in a federal facility or in interstate commerce. For example, federal prosecutors would be empowered to take legal action on malicious cruelty to animals on federal property or in a federal building, or if they found it in the course of investigating another interstate crime (say, in pursuing a drug smuggling or human trafficking ring). 

As we’ve seen with animal fighting, the state and federal laws are complementary and provide the widest set of tools to crack down on that brutal bloodsport and its associated criminal activities. Some animal fighting raids are multi-state and multi-jurisdictional, and sometimes the perpetrators are charged under state law, or federal law, or both.

With animal cruelty, too, most cases can be handled under the existing state statutes. The federal law wouldn’t interfere with those of the states but would provide an additional overlay when necessary.

For example, the cruel treatment of animals in airports (including the recent drowning of a two-week-old puppy in an airport toilet), on trains, highways, and other forms of interstate commerce could result in federal charges under the PACT Act. The law could also give prosecutors a powerful new tool to break up the trade or transport of animals for bestiality, which is especially needed because bestiality is still legal in some states.

A number of studies have drawn links between the abuse of animals and violence against people. A 2001-2004 study by the Chicago Police Department “revealed a startling propensity for offenders charged with crimes against animals to commit other violent offenses toward human victims.” Of those arrested for animal crimes, 65 percent had been arrested for battery against another person.

Of 36 convicted multiple murderers questioned in one study, 46 percent admitted committing acts of animal torture as adolescents. And of seven school shootings that took place across the country between 1997 and 2001, all involved boys who had previously committed acts of animal cruelty. 

A 2002 study found that 96 percent of juveniles who had sexual conduct with animals also admitted to sex offenses against humans. The FBI says serial sexual homicide perpetrators commonly sexually assault animals.

The PACT Act will make our communities safer for human and animal residents. We are grateful to Reps. Smith, Deutch, Marino, and Blumenauer for introducing this important anti-cruelty bill. Please ask your members of Congress to cosponsor the PACT Act today.

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Anti-Horse Slaughter Bill Hits the Senate

Many animal protection issues and challenges are not resolved quickly—they involve long-term fights that take years. The slaughter of horses for human consumption is one such example.

We and our allies have been working to block horse slaughter plants from opening in the U.S.; to stop the long-distance transport of these companion animals in cramped cattle trucks, bound for a brutal slaughter in Canada and Mexico; and to close down export markets for horse meat in the E.U.

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Our legislative adversaries, fearing to tread on this ground, don’t attempt to provide an outright defense of these extreme abuses of animals.

Instead, they try to cast this business—the business of slaughtering horses to profit from the animals’ exported meat—as some kind of altruistic act that helps the horses.

Today, a quartet of Democrat and Republican senators have introduced a bipartisan bill to end that cruel and archaic practice and put an end to the charade of its defense. In a recent blog, I wrote about the reintroduction of the Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act, H.R. 1942, in the House of Representatives.

This legislation would save horses from the cruelty of slaughter—a fate that is nothing short of a complete betrayal of an animal who has stood by us throughout history and is revered as a symbol of the American West.

Now U.S. Senators Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), and Susan Collins (R-ME) have introduced a companion bill in the Senate, S. 1214, to completely end the slaughter of American horses for human consumption. 

The effort to end horse slaughter has consistently garnered tremendous support with both the public and lawmakers. Polling shows that 80 percent of Americans oppose horse slaughter, and when horse slaughter plants attempted to reopen on U.S. soil in 2013, the public fought back. We don’t slaughter dogs and cats to ship their meat to other countries, and we’ll never accept the idea of slaughtering our horses so they can end up on a foreign dinner plate.

The horse slaughter industry and their financial backers should see the writing on the wall and recognize that they are swimming against the tide of public opinion.

Congress has spoken on this issue as well. For the past two fiscal years, it has rightfully prevented the use of tax dollars for horse slaughter inspections, effectively preventing horse slaughter plants from opening here. And when the House version of the SAFE Act was introduced last month, it gained 71 cosponsors within the first week and a half after the bill was introduced.

Now we have a bipartisan group of leaders in the Senate coming together to put the final nail in the coffin and end horse slaughter for human consumption, once and for all.

In 2012, New Jersey became the most recent state to ban horse slaughter for human consumption. Senator Menendez, the senior senator from the Garden State, has been a strong proponent of animal protection and has championed reforms to protect horses from horrific abuses such as slaughter, inhumane transport, and soring.

Senators Graham, Mikulski, and Collins have also been strong voices for humane values, and—as Senate Appropriations Committee senior members—are well placed to help horses. They will be at the forefront of efforts to make sure that the language preventing the funding of horse slaughter inspections is retained yet again so that no horse slaughter plants can open here while the SAFE Act is pending.

The horse slaughter industry is a predatory, inhumane enterprise. It doesn’t “euthanize” old horses but precisely the opposite: scurrilous players buy up young and healthy horses, often by misrepresenting their intentions, and kill them to sell the meat to Europe and Japan.

It’s time for Congress to pass the SAFE Act and end horse slaughter for human consumption for good. Please take action today, and ask your U.S. Senators and U.S. Representative to cosponsor the SAFE Act.

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

States Make Progress on Animal Fighting, Puppy Mills, and More

There’s been a lot of action on animal protection policies in state legislatures so far this year, just a few months into 2015. Some major priority bills have been enacted to help crack down on cockfighting, puppy mills, and other large-scale cruelties. Other major issues are on the move, and have cleared key legislative hurdles. We’ve also garnered some key vetoes of bills inimical to animal protection. Here are a few brief dispatches on the progress for animals—and some roadblocks—in the states so far in 2015.

Animal Fighting: Utah became the 42nd state to establish felony-level penalties for cockfighting, and Tennessee capped a seven-year campaign to fortify the state’s anti-cockfighting statute and make it a crime to attend or bring a child to an animal fight. Anti-cockfighting bills are still pending in Ohio and South Carolina. Shamefully, Montana lawmakers voted down a bill to ban attendance at dogfights—retaining their status as the only state in the nation to have such a loophole.

Ivory: The Oregon Senate voted to ban the trade in elephant ivory and rhino horn in the state, and a similar bill advanced in California through the Committee on Water, Parks and Wildlife. A coalition led by Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen, and supported by The HSUS and HSLF, launched a ballot initiative in Washington to ban the trafficking in rare species. If these measures are enacted, the west coast will join New York and New Jersey in cutting off the demand for elephant and rhino poaching.

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Virginia became the third state to restrict sources of pet-store puppies. Photo by Chris Keane/AP Images for The HSUS

Puppy Mills: Virginia strengthened its anti-puppy mill law, by prohibiting pet stores from acquiring dogs from commercial breeders with the worst violations of the Animal Welfare Act, and cracking down on unregulated sales of dogs and cats at flea markets, parking lots, and rest stops. It’s the third state to restrict sources of pet-store puppies, and the fifth to address unregulated outdoor sales, helping to drive the market toward responsible breeders and shelters and rescue groups.

Sharks: The Texas House passed a bill to ban the trade in shark fins and to help combat the brutal finning of sharks left to die slowly in the oceans. If enacted, Texas would join nine other states and three U.S. territories with similar policies to crack down on the killing of 26 to 73 million sharks each year, just for a bowl of soup.

Greyhounds: Unfortunately, the Florida legislature adjourned without finalizing a major gambling bill, which would have repealed the state’s mandate that tracks hold live dog racing. Florida is one of the last states in the nation to legally force business owners to hold dog races, resulting in hundreds of injuries to dogs each year.

Gas Chambers: The Kansas House passed a bill to ban the use of carbon monoxide gas chambers to euthanize dogs and cats at shelters, but the language was modified in a conference committee to require that the Department of Agriculture update euthanasia standards by the end of the year. The HSUS will follow this process closely to ensure that it results in a ban on gas chambers, and will continue working with shelters in the remaining gas chamber states to transition them away from this outdated killing practice. In South Carolina, a bill banning gas chambers has passed the House and is currently awaiting a hearing in the Senate.

Ag-Gag: Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey vetoed a misguided and dangerous bill that would have hindered whistleblowing investigations into animal abuse on factory farms and bifurcated the state’s anti-cruelty statute—creating one set of rules for companion animals and another, weaker, one for farm animals and horses—after hearing from thousands of constituents who opposed this power grab by Big Ag. We are working to fight pending “ag-gag” legislation which seeks to stop whistleblowers and journalists from exposing abuses on factory farms in a number of states.

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The North Carolina House passed a bill that would ban the most dangerous wild animals from being kept as pets.Photo by Kathy Milani/The HSUS

Captive Wildlife: West Virginia passed a follow-up bill to last year’s law on dangerous wild animals as pets, ensuring that the private ownership of lions, tigers, bears, apes, monkeys, and other species will be prohibited in the state. And the North Carolina House passed a bill that would also ban the most dangerous wild animals from being kept as pets. These are two of the handful of remaining states with little to no restrictions on the keeping of dangerous wildlife. Also, a bill advanced in California through the Senate Committee on Public Safety to ban the use of bullhooks on elephants.

Unsporting Hunting Methods: The Indiana Senate voted down a bill that would have legalized captive hunting of deer, elk, and other cervids trapped behind fences—an unsporting and inhumane practice that also spreads deadly diseases to native wildlife and livestock. The Colorado, Oregon, and Washington legislatures all rejected attempts by trophy-hunting groups to repeal portions of citizen-passed ballot measures that prohibit the baiting and hounding of bears or cougars. Montana Gov. Steve Bullock vetoed a bill yesterday that would have dramatically liberalized the use of steel-jawed leghold traps and other body-gripping traps in the state.

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