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May 2017

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

President’s budget a mixed bag for animals

The White House yesterday released President Trump’s budget for Fiscal Year 2018, providing more detail on the spending proposals for federal agencies than what was forecast earlier this year. One of the most troubling aspects of the package is the administration’s desire to allow the commercial sale of an unlimited number of wild horses and burros rounded up from federal lands. This is a betrayal of the public trust and our stewardship of these wild horses and burros, who are protected under federal law and represent the historic and pioneer spirit of the American West.

Horses_istock_270x240_Gary-Alvis
Gary Alvis/iStock

While the budget is bad for animals when looking across multiple agencies, there are a few bright spots, including stable funding levels for enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act and Horse Protection Act and a reduction in the budget for USDA’s notorious Wildlife Services program. Many lawmakers pronounced the president’s budget "dead on arrival," but where the president strayed from mainstream principles, it’s important for HSLF to comment. It is Congress that has the power of the purse, and we’ll work with our allies on Capitol Hill to fight harmful provisions to animals and ensure that the final product reflects America’s wide and deep support for animal protection. 

Here are a few key items of note: 

Wildlife Services:
President Trump has taken a major step in the right direction toward "draining the swamp" of an outdated and inhumane federal predator killing program. The proposed budget cuts the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s "Wildlife Services" program by $45 million and specifies that ranchers, farmers, and other local participants "requesting direct control assistance will need to cover the operational program costs." This would de-incentivize the U.S. government from killing and maiming wildlife and family pets, and the predator killing tax could finally get the axe. If Congress follows suit, far fewer federal taxes will be wasted on killing millions of animals using horribly inhumane and indiscriminate methods such as toxic poisons, steel-jawed leghold traps, wire neck snares, explosives, and aerial gunning. Wildlife Services would be encouraged to help people prevent wildlife damage through non-lethal deterrents which are often more effective and less costly.

Animal Welfare Act/Horse Protection Act:
We are pleased that the president’s budget recognizes the important role that USDA provides in enforcing the Animal Welfare Act and Horse Protection Act. Although USDA was cut by 21 percent overall, funding for enforcement of the AWA and HPA would remain essentially level under the proposal. The AWA requires thousands of puppy mills, laboratories, zoos, circuses, and other regulated entities to comply with its basic humane care and treatment standards, while the HPA is intended to protect Tennessee walking horses and related breeds from the cruel and criminal practice of "soring"— using caustic chemicals, torture devices, and other painful techniques on horses’ hooves and legs to force an artificial pain-based high-stepping gait.

Horse Slaughter:
The budget omits critically needed language to prevent federal tax dollars from being used to open and operate horse slaughter plants on U.S. soil. The last horse slaughter plants in the U.S. shut down a decade ago, and this language keeps the practice from being resurrected. Horse meat poses serious food safety risks from the multitude of medications horses are given throughout their lives. The horse slaughter industry is a predatory, inhumane enterprise. It doesn’t "euthanize" old horses, but precisely the opposite: "kill buyers" purchase young and healthy horses, often by misrepresenting their intentions, and kill them to sell the meat to Europe and Japan. Americans do not consume horse meat, and our nation’s limited agency resources and inspectors should not be diverted from the important current duties of protecting the food supply for U.S. consumers.

Wild Horses and Burros:
As noted above, the president’s budget proposes to enable the Bureau of Land Management to sell wild horses and burros without limitation—clearly signaling a desire to strip protections and open the door to sending thousands of these animals to commercial slaughter. This is a radical departure from decades of protection, when there are more humane and cost-effective strategies readily available. The BLM can save tens of millions of dollars by utilizing technologically advanced, humane alternatives to costly round-up and removal of wild horses on federal lands. Using immunocontraception to manage wild horse and burro populations in the West instead of taking them off the land and putting them in long-term government holding facilities is not only more humane, but would also help the agency get off the fiscal treadmill of rounding up horses and keeping them on the government dole.

Alternatives to Animal Testing:
The animal protection community celebrated last year’s passage of legislation to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act, with language aimed at minimizing the use of animals in chemical safety tests. We also recognized that funding for computational toxicology and other 21st century methods to reduce and ultimately replace animal testing for risk assessments is essential to implement the law. President Trump’s proposed budget goes in the wrong direction, reducing EPA’s funding for alternatives development by 28 percent, and additionally, hindering the progress made by the National Institutes of Health’s National Center for the Advancement of Translational Sciences with a 19 percent cut. This is a short-sighted approach that will impede the transition to faster, cheaper, and more predictive toxicological methods that can provide for human safety and ultimately eliminate antiquated animal tests.

Marine Mammals:
The president’s budget eliminates two initiatives critical to protecting marine mammals. The Prescott Marine Mammal Rescue Grant Program supports trained teams, largely composed of volunteers, which rescue and care for more than 5,500 stranded whales, dolphins, porpoises, and seals each year. Thanks to this care, many of the animals successfully return to the wild. With the loss of Prescott funds, which often help to leverage additional funds from the private sector, members of the public who encounter marine mammals in distress might be unable to find anyone to assist. The budget also eliminates the U.S. Marine Mammal Commission, which brings together economic interest groups, scientists, and animal protection organizations, including The HSUS, to seek practical solutions to conservation challenges facing marine mammals. These issues include how to minimize harm from offshore energy development, military exercises, and commercial fishing. The commission’s important work has been achieved on a shoestring budget, and is the kind of problem solving and bridge building the nation needs.

Friday, May 05, 2017

Political shenanigans with greyhound racing

Greyhound racing is withering, with more than two dozen tracks closing since 2001 and only 19 dog tracks remaining in just six states. In the last 15 years, the total amount gambled on greyhound racing nationwide has declined by 70 percent.

Greyhound
Denise McFadden/GREY2K USA

Despite these obvious trends, some politicians are clinging to their greyhounds and gambling cheat sheets. They are working hard to keep this cruel sport on life support, even when consumers and taxpayers are saying they’ve had enough.

The West Virginia legislature passed a bill this year to eliminate state funding to subsidize dog racing in the state, but Gov. Jim Justice vetoed the measure as a give-away to the greyhound breeding industry. Florida, home to about two-thirds of the nation’s dog tracks, still forces casinos to have live dog races, and legislation to remove this government mandate failed again this year, because of the dizzying complexity of Florida gambling politics.

And now Kansas has taken a step backwards and made a bad bet to bring back greyhound racing, eight years after the last tracks closed in the state. Although legislation to prop up dog racing through a slot subsidy scheme was seemingly dead for the year, a conference committee yesterday resuscitated it by gutting and stuffing it into an unrelated bill. This type of sneaky, backdoor maneuvering, where the public isn’t allowed to weigh in on the issue, is a way for politicians to circumvent the normal checks and balances in the legislative process.

Racing proved to be a bad experiment for Kansas, and in 2008, with no public support and a 95 percent decline in gambling, the facilities shut down. Why would Kansas lawmakers spend their political capital trying to bring back an activity that consumers and the free market don’t want? Kansas currently operates no race tracks, and Kansans do not support dog racing. This bill caters to the gambling industry with no regard for animal welfare.

This unsporting activity leads to cruelty and neglect of greyhounds. These dogs endure lives of confinement, kept in small cages barely large enough for them to stand up or turn around for long hours each day. Public and private agencies will be forced to absorb the costs of investigating related cruelty complaints, taking in dogs with injuries and illness for treatment, rescue and adoption, and picking up dead discarded bodies of dogs dumped when the racing industry is done with them. In the last six-month season of racing in Kansas, 80 dogs suffered broken legs and backs and other injures. A total of 19 dogs were killed.

The racing industry conducts extensive breeding of dogs, resulting in an annual surplus numbering in the thousands, many of whom will end up being destroyed despite the best efforts of shelters and rescue groups. What’s more, even when they are made available for adoption, they clog the adoption pipeline, making it more difficult for other dogs to find lifelong homes. Since 2008, the year that dog racing ended in Kansas, more than 12,000 greyhound injuries were reported in other states, including broken backs and legs, spinal cord paralysis, and death by cardiac arrest. Now is not the time to bring back this cruelty to the Sunflower State.

Each Kansas citizen now has an opportunity to voice their disgust with this action, but they must weigh in urgently. Contact your state legislators now and ask them to oppose greyhound racing and House Bill 2386. It’s clear the citizens of this state no longer see the entertainment value in subjecting dogs to run for their lives. The clock is ticking and the lives of thousands of greyhounds are hanging in the balance.

Greyhound racing is archaic and exploitive, and there is no place for it in the humane economy. In fact, a dog dies every three days on a Florida track. Racing greyhounds endure lives of confinement, are fed 4D meat (the Ds represent dying, diseased, disabled, and dead to describe the source of meat fed to these animals), and suffer injuries and sometimes death. As a humane movement, we must keep pushing to improve the lives of dogs, and we are making progress.

For example, the Florida regulatory agency is in the process of creating rules that will require tracks to report greyhound injuries to the state. Last year the humane community prevailed and passed a greyhound protection ordinance in Seminole County requiring disposition reporting, injury reporting, and routine inspections of greyhound kennels. This year a bill that would prohibit the use of anabolic steroids passed the Florida House with bipartisan support and came close to passing the Senate. We will keep pushing to save dogs from cruelty and remove the antiquated government mandate that requires tracks to hold a certain number of live races in order to operate their profitable poker rooms.

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