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July 2015

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

House Veterinarians and Bipartisan Lawmakers Team Up to Make Soring a Thing of the PAST

Good news for horses: a bipartisan group of more than 100 members of Congress, evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats, joined together as original cosponsors of the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act introduced last night in the U.S. House. Led by Reps. Ted Yoho, R-Fla., and Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., who are both veterinarians and co-chairs of the House Veterinary Medicine Caucus, along with the leadership team of Reps. Mike Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., David Jolly, R-Fla., and Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., this crucial legislation, H.R. 3268, aims to stop the intentional torture of Tennessee walking horses and related breeds just for ribbons and prizes. 

The Senate version of the PAST Act was introduced earlier this year by Sens. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., and Mark Warner, D-Va., and S. 1121 now has 43 cosponsors (nearly half the Senate) and continues to build momentum.

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The PAST Act will make the act of soring a horse illegal. Photo by Lance Murphey for The HSUS

In 1970, Congress passed the Horse Protection Act (HPA) to stop “soring”—a barbaric practice in which unscrupulous trainers injure the horses' hooves and legs to induce an unnatural, high-stepping gait prized in some show rings. In some case, the trainers apply caustic chemicals, including diesel fuel and mustard oil, and cook it into the horses' flesh by wrapping their legs in plastic, jam painful objects into their tender hooves, and use a host of other gruesome techniques to make it hurt for the horses to step down.

However, the law is weak and soring remains widespread in a small segment (an estimated 10 percent) of the Tennessee walking horse industry. These trainers have soring down to a science, and they continue to devise new ways to inflict pain on their victims while concealing evidence of the cheating and cruelty—all to produce the artificial “Big Lick” gait and gain unfair advantage at horse competitions.

After decades of abuse, it’s high time that Congress takes action. The PAST Act will do what’s needed—amend the existing law to end the corrupt system of industry self-policing, ban the use of devices implicated in the practice of soring such as chains that strike against horses’ sore legs and heighten the pain, strengthen penalties, hold all those involved accountable, and make the act of soring a horse illegal. 

The PAST Act has broad support across the board, from more than 60 horse organizations (such as the American Horse Council) to major animal protection groups to veterinary groups, including the American Association of Equine Professionals, American Veterinary Medical Association, Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association, and state veterinary groups in all 50 states. The National Sheriffs’ Association, Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, Tennessee walking horse enthusiasts intent on cleaning up their sport, celebrities, and many others are among the more than 600 groups and individuals who have endorsed this legislation.

Among horse industry professionals, one of PAST’s supporters is world-renowned horseman and educator, Monty Roberts. Known as the “Horse Whisperer,” Roberts has been an instrumental force in reshaping the horse world by fostering a nonviolent training approach called "Join-Up.” Roberts notes, “Soring is one of the most despicable training methods I have ever come across in my lifetime of protecting horses. It’s incredible to me that an industry based on the intentional infliction of pain to an animal could still exist in America. Congress should finally bring an end to this blatant cruelty and pass the PAST Act without delay.”

Walt Taylor, founder and past president of the American Farriers Association and founder and current president of the World Farriers Association, has been a farrier (trimming and shoeing horses’ hooves) for more than 65 years and has witnessed firsthand the abusive methods used to exacerbate these breeds’ natural gaits. According to Taylor, “the needless suffering of horses caused by greed and gratuitous abuse must stop….I find it unconscionable to abuse horses for monetary gain, fame or fashion.”

The Big Lick faction of the walking horse industry has thumbed its nose at the law long enough. The PAST Act is common sense legislation essential to accomplish what Congress set out to do more than 40 years ago—stomp out soring once and for all. Please contact your members of Congress today and ask them to cosponsor this bill to make soring a thing of the PAST. 

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Anti-Cruelty Bill Gathers Steam, to Protect Animals and People

It’s well established that malicious animal cruelty indicates a broader social pathology and lack of empathy, and the perpetrators often are indiscriminate in choosing victims – one day it’s a dog or a horse, another day it’s a neighborhood child or just some innocent passerby. Media reports revealed that days before the recent mass shooting in a Louisiana movie theater, the suspect bragged about bashing a cat “on the head with a piece of rebar,” and ranted about his desire to drug sick pets and “finish them off with an ax.”

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The National Sheriffs’ Association is backing the PACT Act, which will make our communities safer for humans and for animals. Photo by iStockphoto

A bipartisan group of lawmakers on Capitol Hill today called on their colleagues in Congress to pass the Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture (PACT) Act, to help keep animals and people safe in our communities.

S. 1831 and H.R. 2293, sponsored by Senators Patrick Toomey, R-Pa., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Representatives Lamar Smith, R-Tex., Ted Deutch, D-Fla., Tom Marino, R-Pa., and Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., would establish a federal crime for extreme acts of animal cruelty when they occur in interstate or foreign commerce. It would complement the federal animal fighting and crush video statutes and the felony cruelty laws in all 50 states.

As Senator Toomey said today, “There should be no tolerance in our society for this kind of behavior, and it’s our job as legislators to ensure that the laws that we pass reflect the values of our society. So I think there’s a strong moral obligation to protect innocent animals from such appalling cruelty.”

Congressman Smith, former chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, added that these acts of animal cruelty are “more horrific than almost anything imaginable.”

There is already 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, which 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.

The PACT Act would close this gap in the law, and 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.

The National Sheriffs’ Association is backing the PACT Act, and its deputy executive director, John Thompson, said in advocating for the bill, “We need our federal partners and federal prosecutors to stand with us at the local level and have some horse power, which they don’t have now.”

Senator Blumenthal, who previously served as a federal prosecutor and state attorney general, said today, “We are really measured in our society by how we treat animals. It says something about us as human beings.”

The PACT Act will make our communities safer for both human and animal residents. Please ask your members of Congress to cosponsor the PACT Act today.

Friday, July 24, 2015

How Safe Are You From an Escaped Pet Lion?

If you live in one of five states with no laws preventing the private possession of dangerous wild animals, there’s no telling what kind of safety threats are looming in your own neighborhood. Dozens of Milwaukee residents reported seeing a lion running loose, spurring a media frenzy this week. One blurry image captured on video in a resident’s backyard suggests this could be a young male or adult female African lion. People are so fearful and on edge that one man mistakenly shot and injured a pit bull dog, thinking it was the lion.

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Captive wild and exotic animals have unique and extremely complex needs that are difficult, if not impossible, for individuals to provide. Pictured above, an African lion in the wild. Photo by Vanessa Mignon

It shouldn’t take a tragedy before Wisconsin, and the other remaining holdout states of Alabama, Nevada, North Carolina, and South Carolina, enact common-sense laws to prevent reckless people from putting entire communities at risk by keeping dangerous wild and exotic pets.

It’s astonishing, but in some cases, even deaths and catastrophic injuries resulting from captive wild animal attacks have not moved legislators to protect residents. It’s still legal to keep a pet tiger in North Carolina, even after two separate incidents in which a 10-year-old boy was mauled to death by his uncle’s 400-pound pet tiger and a three-year-old boy was critically injured and left permanently blind after his father’s pet tiger crushed his skull.

It’s been three years since two chimpanzees escaped from a backyard cage in a residential Las Vegas neighborhood, yet Nevada still has no law. Police responded to that incident with more than 20 squad cars, diverted motorists away from the area, and warned residents to stay indoors. The chimpanzees ran amok, climbed into cars, pounded on vehicles, and banged on windows of homes. In order to protect the public, police shot and killed the male chimpanzee when he darted toward a crowd of onlookers.

Captive wild and exotic animals have unique and extremely complex needs that are difficult, if not impossible, for individuals to provide. Many of these animals are long-lived species and end up being discarded or released by people who were unprepared to provide decades of costly care. These animals pose a danger not only to their owner, but to children living in the household, visitors, neighbors, and emergency responders such as firefighters, paramedics, and police.

It never turns out well for the animals, and it’s often the taxpayers and nonprofit sanctuaries that bear the burden of paying costs related to escapes, attacks, and neglect cases that are all too often the predictable outcomes when these animals are kept in private hands.

While there are gaps in the state laws, there are problems at the federal level too. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has not yet finalized a rule on “generic tigers,” meaning that private individuals and roadside menageries can keep and breed these animals without the same record-keeping and standards required for professional accredited zoos with conservation breeding programs. The U.S. Department of Agriculture allows the public to have direct physical contact with big cats, primates, and other dangerous wild animals dragged around to shopping malls and put on display for paid photo ops, but is considering an HSUS legal petition to close that loophole.  

We hope the situation in Milwaukee is resolved with no deaths or injuries and it triggers state lawmakers to finally ban the private possession of wild and exotic animals. Legislation has previously been introduced and the time to put an end to this dangerous trade is now.

If you live in one of the other states—Alabama, Nevada, North Carolina, or South Carolina—please urge your state legislators to take action and make it a top priority to end the private possession of dangerous wild animals. They shouldn’t wait until the next mauling or fatal attack takes place because of someone’s reckless behavior. 

Thursday, July 09, 2015

House Action is a Mixed Bag for Animals

Yesterday was a mixed day of results for animals on Capitol Hill, with some setbacks and some progress on a number of different fronts for companion animals, wildlife, and farm animals. 

What good news there was came in the Agriculture Appropriations Bill that passed the House Appropriations Committee.

A provision of the bill sends a strong message that grisly, taxpayer-funded experiments on farm animals at federal research facilities will not be tolerated. It prevents the Agricultural Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture from receiving five percent of its appropriations ($56 million in federal funding) until it certifies in writing to both the House and the Senate that it has updated its animal care policies and that its facilities will be subject to regular inspections.

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A provision of the bill sends a strong message that grisly, taxpayer-funded experiments on farm animals at federal research facilities will not be tolerated. Photo by iStockphoto

The New York Times exposed gruesome experiments at the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center in Nebraska, including pigs locked in steam chambers until they died, calves born with “deformed vaginas” and tangled legs, and sheep bred to produce lambs without any human assistance, with the newborns left to starve, freeze, or, get battered to death by hail. The congressional committee, in a report that accompanied the legislation, said that it was “disturbed” to read the Times article and “continues to be deeply disappointed in the department’s response and must take action to ensure the welfare of all animals used in research at ARS facilities.”

In another victory, Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Calif., succeeded in including language in the bill to deny funds for USDA’s licensing or relicensing of Class B animal dealers who sell “random source” dogs and cats for use in research, often obtained from animal shelters, flea markets, or “free to a good home” ads (and sometimes from pet theft). The 1966 Animal Welfare Act was intended to stop the illegal sale of family pets for use in experimentation. However, nearly 50 years after the passage of this landmark legislation, the AWA still fails to reliably protect either pet owners or animals from Class B dealers. The animals are routinely deprived of veterinary care, sufficient food, clean water, safe and sanitary cages, and protection from extreme weather, as well as being subjected to experimentation.

The House committee bill also contains good news for animals in terms of funding for critical animal welfare laws. Thanks to strong bipartisan support, funding for USDA to enforce and implement these key laws was sustained and even modestly increased in some cases. In such a tough budget climate with so many programs competing for finite dollars, we are pleased that lawmakers understand it’s possible to achieve macro-level cuts while still taking care to ensure that specific small and vital accounts such as these have the funds they need.

Here’s a rundown of what the House committee bill provides for key programs:

  • Animal Welfare Act: $28,410,000 ($400,000 increase) for USDA enforcement of the important law that sets basic standards for care of animals at more than 10,000 sites across the country—including puppy mills, research laboratories, roadside zoos, traveling circuses, and airlines.  The increase is designated for inspections and oversight of USDA’s Agricultural Research Service facilities involved in research on animals.
  • Horse Protection Act: $697,000 (current funding level) for USDA enforcement to end the cruel practice of “soring” Tennessee walking horses and related breeds  (deliberately inflicting severe pain and cooking chemicals into the horses’ legs and feet to make it hurt for them to step down, so they will exaggerate their high-stepping gait and win prizes). 
  • Investigative and Enforcement Services: $16,224,000 (current funding level) for this USDA division whose responsibilities include investigation of inspectors’ findings regarding alleged violations of the AWA and HPA and the initiation of follow-up enforcement actions. 
  • Office of Inspector General: $95,643,000 ($617,000 increase) for this office that handles many areas, including investigations and audits of USDA’s enforcement efforts to improve compliance with the AWA, HPA, Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, and regulations to protect downed animals.
  • Humane Slaughter: Helpful committee report language (restated from previous years) directing the Food Safety and Inspection Service to ensure that funds provided for Humane Methods of Slaughter Act enforcement will be focused on overseeing compliance with humane handling rules for live animals as they arrive and are offloaded and handled in pens, chutes, and stunning areas, and that all inspectors receive robust national training.
  • Veterinary Student Loan Repayment: $5,000,000 (current funding level) for this 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 practice in underserved areas and in the vital government divisions devoted to veterinary inspection and oversight.

Without adequate funding for enforcement, the laws and rules we work to enact are mostly just exhortations. The HSUS and HSLF have been steadily working to build the enforcement budgets for these and doing this work provides a critical service to the broader movement to protect all animals. Over the past 17 years, for example, we’ve succeeded in boosting the annual funding for enforcement of the AWA by 205 percent (a cumulative total of more than $157 million in new dollars to the program). Today, there are 123 AWA inspectors, compared to about 60 during the 1990s, to help ensure basic humane treatment at thousands of facilities with animals under their care.

There was a major setback in this same committee, however, when it failed to adopt an amendment to prevent the slaughter of horses for human consumption on U.S. soil. The amendment, offered by Rep. Sam Farr, D-Calif., resulted in a tie vote, 24-24, with the measure not passing. Several longtime Republican supporters of this provision reversed their votes in committee and instead sided with the slaughter of horses for human consumption.

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We will not waver in our efforts to protect American horses. Photo by The HSUS

The fight is not over, as we prepare for similar amendments on the House floor and in the Senate Appropriations Committee, and we will not waver in our efforts to protect American horses. The horse slaughter industry is a predatory, inhumane enterprise. They don’t “euthanize” old horses, but precisely the opposite: they buy up young and healthy horses, often by misrepresenting their intentions, and kill them to sell the meat to Europe and Japan.

In other bad news, the Interior Appropriations bill which was on the House floor this week, includes harmful riders that would block the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from any rulemaking to address the ivory trade and elephant poaching, and would force the removal of wolves in the Great Lakes and Wyoming from protections under the Endangered Species Act. Congressman Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., offered an amendment to strike the ivory rider, and Congresswoman Niki Tsongas, D-Mass., sponsored one to block the weakening of the Endangered Species Act for wolves and other species. Both amendments unfortunately failed on largely partisan votes.

It’s shameful that so many lawmakers pandered to the NRA and sided with ivory sellers and elephant poachers, when close to 100 elephants are being butchered every day for their tusks. There is an epidemic of elephant poaching in Africa, claiming as many as 35,000 elephants each year throughout their range, and threatening extinction of the species. The biggest ivory-selling markets in the world are in China and the United States, and these sales are fueling the slaughter of elephants thousands of miles away.  African armed militia groups massacred hundreds of elephants with the sale of the animals’ tusks financing murderous activities of al-Shabaab, the Lord’s Resistance Army, and the Janjaweed, so this is a national security issue as well as a humane issue.

It’s also shameful that lawmakers continue to try to punch holes in the Endangered Species Act, and strip protections from wolves, with the public and the courts being shut out of the process. They would hand over wolf management to states in which more than 1,700 wolves have been killed in the last few years with the aid of leghold traps, snares, packs of hounds, bait site, clubs, and firearms. If members of Congress can dictate wolf management by legislative fiat, it opens the door for any politician or special interest group to do the same for a species they don’t like.

See how your U.S. representative voted on the ivory amendment and the wolf amendment. If they voted “aye” please thank them for standing up for animals, conservation, and national security, and if they voted “no” please let them know how disappointed you are. Also, please ask them to oppose the final passage of the Interior bill, which includes these harmful provisions.

We will continue to watch the appropriations process closely and keep you posted on the fights over horse slaughter, ivory trade, wolves, and other critical animal issues. 

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