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February 2016

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

HUD Needs a Clause on Claws

Public housing can be extremely difficult to obtain, with many families in need stuck on waiting lists for months or even years. For those with cats, the relief of acquiring public housing is quickly replaced by dread when they face an unthinkable choice: have their cat declawed or find kitty another home. Forcing tenants to declaw their cats is one of the most extreme pet policies on the books, and increasingly rare in apartment buildings. It’s not only an inhumane mutilation of the cat, but also creates a financial burden and takes choices about responsible pet care away from public housing residents.

Cat_blog_300x170_iStockphoto
iStock Photo

A bipartisan group of 51 members of Congress, led by Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, is working to make sure that families and their beloved cats won’t be put in these situations. They wrote to Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Julián Castro, urging him to prohibit public housing authorities (PHAs) from requiring residents to declaw their cats. HUD does not mandate declawing, but individual PHAs may legally do so in their pet policies. The fact that some PHAs are forcing residents to choose between a costly, cruel mutilation or giving up their companion leads to a patchwork of inconsistent rules, and can be easily remedied with a change to current HUD regulations.

Declawing is a cruel, expensive, medically unnecessary, and painful procedure, involving the amputation of the last bone on each toe. Despite common misperceptions, declawing a cat is not analogous to a snake that sheds its skin or a tarantula that molts its shell. To put it in human terms, it would entail amputating a finger at the last knuckle. Moreover, veterinarians recommend it as medically necessary only in the most drastic circumstances, such as when certain types of cancer are present.

Further, declawing is an ineffective and often counterproductive method for protecting property. Left with sensitive paw pads, many cats develop other destructive behavior issues, such as biting or urinating outside the litter box. Instead of spending their time ensuring that all resident cats are declawed, housing managers at PHAs would save themselves considerable time and grief by instead referring residents to animal welfare groups that can provide residents with appropriate scratching equipment and behavior advice.

For the majority of people living in public housing, this policy serves as a de facto ban on cats as scarce resources mean that they can’t find other affordable, cat-friendly housing nor can they pay for the expensive declaw procedure.

With the growing public concern over the cruelty of declawing, the procedure has been banned in 28 countries including Australia, Brazil, and much of Europe. In the U.S., several cities have banned declawing, California prohibits landlords from imposing declawing as a requirement for residents, and the New York state legislature is considering a declawing bill in 2016.

This would not be the first time HUD has stepped in and banned PHAs from requiring veterinary procedures that are cruel and medically unnecessary. HUD regulations already prohibit PHAs from requiring dogs to be devocalized, and that existing policy could easily be extended to prevent PHAs from requiring cats to be declawed.

We are grateful to the members of Congress who are standing up for cats and the families who love them, and we urge HUD to adopt this policy swiftly. Without any legitimate property protection purpose, a formal notice to PHAs that they cannot force residents to put their pets through an inhumane, painful, and expensive procedure should be an easy call for HUD.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Political Progeny in the Limelight on Animal Issues

When it comes to the children of politicians, the less said the better. They didn’t sign up for this kind of media glare. Who deserves privacy more than kids?

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Sean Pavone/Alamy Photo Stock

But when they grow up and start making headlines as adults, for good or ill, well that’s different. The adult children of three would-be presidents fit that definition, on the topic of their treatment and concern for animals. 

Two of these political progeny are the daughters of leading American politicians, and they’ve chosen to enter the public arena and use their family names, money, and celebrity to make ours a kinder, better world for the creatures who are at our mercy.

Then, there are the sons of another presidential hopeful—two men who freely spend their share of a family fortune to travel the world and kill majestic animals, smile about it for cameras, cut off a tail here, pose with bodies there... the usual in-your-face arrogance of fat-cat trophy hunters who don’t seem to care much about anything but themselves.

"Dad, can I borrow a jet? I want to save some dogs." I can almost imagine the conversation as Georgina Bloomberg asked her father, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, to use his private Dassault Falcon jet to fly to Puerto Rico and rescue 10 stray dogs.

Because of the stray dog problem and lack of spaying and neutering in Puerto Rico, Georgina said on returning home with dogs in tow, they "don’t have a shot getting adopted there." After the first 10 dogs were adopted, she went back to Puerto Rico a few weeks later and brought back 56 more.

This was not some election-time stunt. Georgina has a well-established record as an animal advocate and has been an active, roll-up-her-sleeves volunteer for The Humane Society of the United States and other animal protection groups for years. A dog lover and avid equestrian, she’s taken on puppy mills, horse slaughter, and other issues.

Right now, Michael Bloomberg says only that he is considering a late entry into the presidential fray. For the time being, he must be proud of his daughter’s commitment. A few happy, and very lucky dogs have a new chance at life thanks to this remarkable young woman.

Since the 1990s, Chelsea Clinton has been making news in the global campaign to stop poaching of Africa’s majestic elephants. She has traveled to Africa with both her mother, Hillary, and father, Bill, and she’s spoken out forcefully for saving elephants.

The Clinton commitment runs deep. Chelsea serves as vice chair of the Clinton Foundation, where the Clinton Global Initiative announced an $80 million campaign two years ago to help protect the continent’s elephants, who are under merciless assault by ivory poachers.

"My mom and I both realized independently that we were facing a real poaching crisis," Chelsea told the Washington Post. "We knew we had to do something."

Bravo. What a call to action, eh? "We knew we had to do something."

That spirit of giving back and concern for animals stands in stark contrast, unfortunately, to the behavior of the Trump boys.

Maybe you’ve seen the dreadful pictures of the carnage wrought by Donald Jr. and his brother Eric when they went to Africa three years ago. There’s Eric proudly holding the limp body of a leopard he shot. Eric is standing next to his brother, and both are grinning for the camera like boys who got a full-size candy bar in their trick-or-treat bag. Oh and there’s Don Jr. in a macho pose, a knife in one hand and a severed tail of an elephant in the other—with his rifle resting on the carcass of the animal. What a trophy, huh? An animal’s tail.

Had enough? Well they didn’t. They went on to kill and kill again, recording it all in smiling, posed photographs. A dead Cape buffalo. A waterbuck. And there they are next to a dead 12-foot crocodile strung up by its neck from a tree.

Wow. The dentist who killed Cecil the lion might find himself looking up to these guys. Donald himself brushed off questions. The lads like hunting, he explained, and one of the boys "I would say he puts it on a par with golf, if not ahead of golf."

With their famous names and oversized fortunes, the two Trump brothers could have gone anywhere and done almost anything to help those who "don’t have a shot."

They took different shots.

They had an opportunity "to do something."

And this is what they did.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Big Cats in Captivity a National Crisis

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., today introduced the Big Cat Public Safety Act, S. 2541, which would restrict the private ownership and breeding of big cats in the United States. Enactment of this legislation cannot come soon enough, to address the national crisis of big cats in captivity and stem the tide of problems created by reckless individuals owning and breeding tigers, lions, and other big cats and putting the rest of society at risk.

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Katie Birk/The HSUS
Alexander, the tiger rescued from a filthy and flimsy backyard
enclosure in Atchison, KS now resides at Black Beauty Ranch.

Most captive big cats are kept in inhumane conditions, pose a threat to the communities in which they are held, create a burden for law enforcement agencies and sanctuaries, and compromise global conservation efforts. For example, last September, a 10-week-old declawed tiger cub was found abandoned and wandering through a Hemet, California, neighborhood. A Las Vegas man has a 6-acre backyard menagerie crammed with nearly four dozen caged African lions, necessitating that county officials deal with ongoing safety concerns. A tiger and two cougars were among 11 animals seized in Atchison, Kansas, in 2013 after they had largely been abandoned in flimsy, filthy cages on a rural property. Eighteen tigers, three cougars, and 17 African lions were among the 48 animals shot and killed in Zanesville, Ohio, in 2011, after their suicidal owner released them into the community. 

Hundreds of big cats are bred every year at roadside zoos to produce a steady supply of cubs for temporary use in public photo-ops and play sessions, with the older animals dying prematurely from neglect, warehoused in small cages, sold into the exotic pet trade, or even killed. Two tiger cubs named Maximus and Sarabi at Tiger Safari in Oklahoma—the subject of an HSUS undercover investigation into the sordid world of tiger cub photo-ops—are now dead just more than a year later. A roadside menagerie in Ohio, accredited by the deceptively named “Zoological Association of America,” uses lion cubs for photo-ops with the public and has had the older lions slaughtered for meat. And at another Oklahoma roadside menagerie, 23 tiger cubs died over a period of 13 months—taken from their mothers immediately after birth when they most need her.

Big cats in the U.S. have contributed to nearly 350 dangerous incidents in 44 states since 1990. Four children lost their lives and dozens of others lost limbs or suffered other often traumatic injuries. Eighteen adults have been killed, and scores have been mauled.

Enough is enough. The people peddling tiger and lion cubs are not credible in their claim to the status of small business owners. They are perpetrators of abuse who are passing their costs onto the rest of us—the taxpayers, government agencies, and nonprofit animal sanctuaries that spend millions of dollars dealing with the cast-off big cats, and the families of the victims whose lives were lost due to this unregulated madness in our neighborhoods and at roadside attractions.

The Obama administration can take important and overdue actions on this issue, with a pending U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rule to substantially improve oversight of endangered tigers in captivity, and a petition to the U.S. Department of Agriculture to ban public contact with big cats and other dangerous wildlife. But Congress must also do its part, and Sen. Blumenthal’s bill would restrict the owning and breeding of big cats, with the exception of legitimate animal sanctuaries and professional zoos accredited by the widely respected Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA)—those with the resources and expertise to provide for their complex needs. The House version of the bill, H.R. 3546, introduced last year by Reps. Walter Jones, R-N.C. and Loretta Sanchez, D-Calif., has 57 bipartisan cosponsors.

Please urge your U.S. senators and representative to support this important legislation. You can find their contact information here. It’s time to take this decisive step to protect public safety before the next person is killed by a lion or tiger, and to greatly reduce the suffering inflicted on these creatures kept as exotic pets and in miserable roadside zoos.

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