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In the News

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Upgrading anti-cruelty laws across the country in 2017

Our movement has made so much progress over the last three decades in closing the gaps in the legal framework for animal cruelty. In the mid-1980’s, only four states had felony penalties for malicious cruelty to animals, only a dozen had felony dogfighting, and several states still allowed legal cockfighting. Today, malicious cruelty and dogfighting allow for felony-level penalties in all 50 states, cockfighting is banned nationwide with felony penalties in 43 states, and the federal animal fighting statute has tough penalties, including for training and possession of fighting animals, spectators, and bringing children to animal fights.

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Larry French/AP Images for The HSUS

We continue to march state by state to further upgrade and fortify the anti-cruelty statutes, improve enforcement, and close remaining gaps in the law where they exist. In 2017, it has been a particularly exciting year in state legislatures when it came to strengthening laws for abused and neglected animals. These laws range from outlawing animal sexual abuse, to prohibiting the chronic, cruel chaining of dogs outdoors, to increasing penalties for dogfighting and cockfighting. 

This year, The HSUS, HSLF, and our partners worked to make great strides on these fronts. Lawmakers outlawed bestiality in Nevada, Texas (as a felony), and Vermont. When we renewed our campaign efforts on this issue just a few years ago, bestiality was legal in eleven states—now that number is down to five remaining. Laws to help dogs outdoors were strengthened in Maryland with more clearly defined standards of care; in New jersey with shelter and standards of care requirements, and significant tethering restrictions; in Rhode Island with upgrades to shelter and nourishment requirements; in Vermont with expanded standards of care and humane standards for tethering; and in Washington with an impressive, comprehensive dogs who live outdoors/tethering law.  

Kansas and Oregon upgraded their cost of care statutes, putting the burden on animal abusers—rather than nonprofit organizations and taxpayer-funded agencies—to pay the financial cost of caring for animals seized from cruelty cases. Cost of care law was amended in Oregon to include hens and chicks in cockfighting cases. Nevada made some progress on this issue, ultimately giving counties the ability to recover costs of care if an “authorized person” is unavailable to care for the animal. Oregon expanded agencies’ ability to petition for custody of seized animals, and Hawaii humane societies may now petition the court for custody of seized animals prior to filing criminal charges against the owner.

Pennsylvania passed a comprehensive upgrade of its anti-cruelty statute this year, including making malicious cruelty a felony on the first offense, rather than just for repeat offenders (leaving Iowa and Mississippi as the only two states left without first offense felony penalties). Arkansas, Texas, and Wyoming increased penalties for certain cruelty offenses, and Oregon increased prohibition for animal abusers on future ownership to 15 years. New York bolstered its animal fighting law by making animal fighting a designated offense for an eavesdropping or video surveillance warrant. And Rhode Island made animal hoarding a cruelty offense, making it the first state in the country to outlaw hoarding. North Dakota was the one state that took a step backwards, with an added requirement for a veterinary recommendation before an agency may seize an animal.

There is a rising tide of consciousness across the country—in red, blue, and purple states—that animals should be protected from cruelty, and that we must have strong laws on the books to prevent abuse and crack down on the outliers. The HSUS, HSLF, and our partners are proud to have had a hand in many of these successes, and are grateful to the lawmakers who took on these big fights. We look forward to continuing this important work to drive transformational change for animals in 2018 and beyond.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Abandoned puppy at airport highlights need for PAWS Act

A 3-month-old Chihuahua puppy named Chewy was abandoned inside a Las Vegas airport restroom two weekends ago. The heartbreaking note from Chewy’s owner highlights a critical policy issue that should be a call to action for lawmakers.

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Photo courtesy of Connor and Millie’s Dog Rescue
Chewy after being rescued by a Good Samaritan

The note read: "Hi! I’m Chewy! My owner was in an abusive relationship and couldn’t afford me to get on the flight. She didn’t want to leave me with all her heart but she has NO other option. My ex-boyfriend kicked my dog when we were fighting and he has a big knot on his head. He probably needs a vet. I love Chewy sooo much—please love and take care of him."

Fortunately a Good Samaritan found Chewy and got him to a local dog rescue, where he is recovering and doing well. But how many pets like Chewy are injured or killed in homes where there is domestic abuse? And how many human victims remain in dangerous situations rather than leave a beloved pet behind with an abusive spouse or partner?

In Congress, U.S. Sens. Gary Peters, D-Mich., and Dean Heller, R-Nev., and U.S. Reps. Katherine Clark, D-Mass., and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., have introduced critical legislation to help domestic violence victims and their beloved pets. The Pet and Women Safety (PAWS) Act, S. 322 and H.R. 909, would amend the Violence Against Women Act to extend existing federal domestic violence protections to four-legged family members.

In addition to providing greater protections for human and animal victims, the PAWS Act would provide grant money for domestic violence shelters so they can accommodate pets. Right now, only three percent of these shelters are believed to allow pets, presenting another barrier for victims who want to get help but don’t want to leave their animals behind and in harm’s way. But with the proper resources, many more shelters will be able to provide refuge for all members of the family who need protection, whether they walk on two legs or four. Had the PAWS Act been passed, it may have helped Chewy stay with his owner.

Thirty-two states have enacted pet protective order legislation, allowing courts to include pets in restraining orders that prevent suspected abusers from having access to their victims. But under these differing state laws, what happens when a domestic violence victim must go to live with family in another state where pets are not covered under protective orders? The PAWS Act establishes a national policy on the issue and encourages states to expand their legal protections for pets in abusive households.

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Photo courtesy of Connor and Millie’s Dog Rescue

Domestic violence and animal cruelty often go hand in hand. A seminal study in 1997 found that between 71 and 83 percent of women entering domestic violence shelters reported that their partners had threatened, injured, or killed the family pet. For abusers, harming or threatening to harm a beloved dog or cat is a way of exerting control and intimidation, trading on the victim’s emotional connection with a pet, and using that love as a lever to prevent an escape from an abusive and sometimes life-threatening situation.

A Campbellton, Fla., man, charged with aggravated assault and domestic violence toward his live-in girlfriend, shot the family’s dog twice, beat her with a rifle, and later with an ax, until she was dead. In Amsterdam, N.Y., a man slit the throat of his girlfriend’s cat and threw the cat out a window, and two days later, he attempted to strangle his girlfriend. Another woman was threatened while she was forced to watch her cat tied to a tree and killed with fireworks by her abuser.

All over the country, the examples are endless and horrifying, illustrating a direct link between animal cruelty and violence against people. Those who torture and abuse animals are the ones most likely to physically harm a human family member.

Chewy got away to safety, and so did the owner who loved him dearly. The passage of this legislation would show that Congress recognizes the seriousness of domestic violence and provides other victims and their families with the help they need. There is simply no reason to deny these protections to pets, and the people who love them. 

Contact your legislators today and tell them to support the Pet and Women Safety (PAWS) Act. 

Friday, June 30, 2017

Libre’s paw on Libre’s Law, Time for Congress to make a PACT

This week Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, surrounded by a swarm of animal advocates and lawmakers, eagerly signed a comprehensive overhaul of the Keystone State’s anti-cruelty statutes into law. The governor wasn’t the only one to sign the bill, however: Libre, a Boston terrier who recovered from a shocking case of mistreatment that rallied the legislature to take action, dipped his paw print in paint and stamped it on the bill, too.

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Photo courtesy of Governor Wolf
Libre signing his bill into law with the
governor and his mom!

A Good Samaritan got a glimpse of a severely neglected Libre and had the resolve to convince the owner to turn over the failing dog to her. From that point forward, two epic journeys followed: 1) Libre’s slow but steady convalescence, and 2) the inexorable advance of an anti-cruelty bill that had new vigor because of the dog’s painful circumstance. Libre’s plight touched the hearts of many Pennsylvanians who then called on the General Assembly to strengthen animal cruelty and neglect laws, so cases like Libre’s don’t go unpunished. 

At that time, the state’s laws did not carry penalties with suitable punishments for abuse, cruelty, and neglect committed against animals. Especially concerning to advocates of this bill was the link between animal abuse and interpersonal violence. Numerous studies have shown a substantial correlation between animal abuse and family violence. Animal abuse may present a risk of child abuse and be predictive of future violence or threats against other human victims.   

Pennsylvania had previously been one of only three states in the nation (with Iowa and Mississippi) that did not punish extreme and malicious acts of animal cruelty as a felony on the first offense—only for repeat offenders. The new legislation, known as Libre’s Law, closes that loophole, and also updates and clarifies the existing animal abuse statute. Penalties will be more clearly delineated among summary offenses, misdemeanors, and felony charges based on the seriousness of the abuse involved. Also, this bill provides escalated penalties for repeat offenders. This is a major victory and the most comprehensive animal protection package in state history, and should move Pennsylvania up from its current #18 spot in our annual Humane State Ranking.

While the states have continuously fortified their anti-cruelty laws over the years—with all 50 now having some felony-level penalties for cruelty, compared to only four in the mid-1980s—there is still no general federal anti-cruelty statute. We are working to change that, with the Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture (PACT) Act—S. 654 by Sens. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and H.R. 1494 by Reps. Lamar Smith, R-Tex., Ted Deutch, D-Fla.—which now has 16 bipartisan cosponsors in the Senate and more than 200 in the House.

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. But while the trade in videos depicting images of cruelty is 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 in regard to 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 barbaric 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 bill has been endorsed by more than 200 sheriffs and police departments in 36 states and national groups including the National Sheriffs’ Association, Fraternal Order of Police, and Association of Prosecuting Attorneys.

It’s long past time that Congress empowers the FBI and U.S. Attorneys to deal with malicious and deviant cruelty on federal property or that crosses state lines. We know there is a well-documented link between animal abuse and other forms of violent behavior, and this legislation is a tool to combat this violence when we get a first look at it. We shouldn’t need some awful, personalized case of cruelty, and the naming of the bill after a battered animal, to stir us to do the right thing. Please contact your members of Congress today and ask them to pass the PACT Act.

Friday, June 16, 2017

The States’ Rights Elimination Act

With House and Senate Agriculture committee members beginning the elaborate process of assembling the next Farm Bill, we expect another protracted fight in Congress over states’ rights and animal welfare. However, a new bill introduced this week—H.R. 2887 by Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wisc.—is a radical federal overreach that overshadows anything we might have anticipated with a new Farm Bill debate. It could strip states of their right to protect their own citizens, and it represents the most serious threat imaginable to animal welfare protections. 

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Leandro Hernandez/i.Stock.com

If enacted, this measure would put dozens of state animal protection laws at risk, including measures dealing with the extreme confinement of farm animals, horse slaughter and the sale of horsemeat, the sale of foie gras produced by force-feeding ducks and geese, tail docking of dairy cows and processing downer livestock, commerce in shark fins and rhino horn, and potentially even bans on the sale of dog and cat meat.

Innocuously titled by its authors the "No Regulation Without Representation Act," the bill should more accurately be called the "States’ Rights Elimination Act." Like the King amendment in previous years, it could potentially nullify state laws relating to animal cruelty, child labor, cigarette safety, and even the labeling of farm-raised fish. It’s an attempt to strip states of their right to ensure the health and welfare of their citizens, prohibiting them from regulating the sale of any product produced in another state—no matter how dangerous, unethical, or environmentally destructive. 

The National Conference of State Legislatures, the bipartisan organization representing Republican and Democratic lawmakers in the states, calls this "one of the most coercive, intrusive, and preemptive legislature measures ever introduced in Congress." NCSL notes that:

The Framers of the Constitution would be alarmed, as they intended the role of the federal government to be limited, not a government that could regulate anything it wanted. The No Regulation Without Representation Act embodies the usurpation of state sovereignty and expansion of federal overreach the Framers feared. The legislation violates the Tenth Amendment’s guarantee that the sovereign rights of states cannot be abridged by Congress and aims to eliminate states’ powers within their borders, destroying the fundamental principles of federalism that have guided our nation since its founding.

Why should states be forced to allow commerce in products they have banned, for reasons of animal cruelty, food safety, and other compelling purposes? State lawmakers, governors, and regulators took action on these matters through established political processes granted to the states, and why should a small number of lawmakers in Washington trump the views of duly elected state officials?

There are so many policy issues traditionally handled by the states, in the realm of agriculture alone. What about state laws regulating the sale of raw milk, the labeling of catfish, fire-safety standards for cigarettes, the sale of dangerous pesticides, the importation of invasive pests (such as with firewood), or state quality standards for butter?  

But the new legislation is much more sweeping than just agricultural products, and covers all activities involving interstate commerce. There’s no telling how broadly this could be applied to state and local laws across a wide range of businesses. Could it prevent states from regulating strip clubs, or require dry counties to open liquor stores? Could it force states to allow abortion services if the doctors come in from another state? Would state laws on marriage licenses, pornography, drugs, guns, prostitution, and bestiality be up for grabs?

It’s ironic that some politicians often say they are for states’ rights when they agree with what the states are doing, but when they don’t like the result, they are perfectly fine with federal mandates telling states what they can and cannot do. The proponents of this legislation are trying to hang on to outdated factory farming practices, but the world has changed. The idea of extreme confinement is on its way out, with more than 200 food retail companies pledging to cleanse their supply chains of products that come from these sorts of inhumane confinement systems.

A broad and diverse coalition helped to stave off this destructive provision last time the Farm Bill was considered, and we must rally together again. Republicans and Democrats from every region of the country and every part of the political spectrum all have an interest in defeating this sweeping and unconstitutional attack on states’ rights. Not only is the protection of millions of animals in jeopardy, but this radical attack also threatens years of lawmaking by citizens and elected officials, and the very principles on which our country was founded.

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.

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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, April 28, 2017

State legislatures take big steps for animals in 2017

We are one-third of the way through 2017, and  dozens of state legislatures across the country are active, including on animal protection policy issues. The states have always been critical incubators of animal welfare policies, and more often than we’d like, they’ve also been settings where some lawmakers try to set up roadblocks on animal protection. I want to provide a few highlights of what’s happening in the states on our issues.

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Larry French/AP Images for The HSUS

Animal Cruelty: Arkansas and Wyoming both upgraded their cruelty statutes, with Arkansas adding felony penalties for cruelty to equines, and Wyoming making it a felony to injure or kill someone else’s animal. The Texas House passed a bill to ban bestiality, and the Pennsylvania House passed a comprehensive overhaul to the state’s anti-cruelty statute, including felony penalties on the first offense rather than the current law which is only for repeat offenders. Both those bills still have to go through the other chambers. 

Off the Chain: Washington enacted legislation making it illegal to leave a dog tethered outside for a reckless period of time without providing him or her with adequate access to food, water, and shelter. A similar bill has cleared one chamber so far in New Jersey. Dogs who live their lives on the end of a chain or tether become lonely, bored and anxious, and they can develop aggressive behaviors.

Saving Pets from Extreme Temperatures: Colorado and Indiana have passed laws giving people the right to rescue dogs from a hot car, where they can sustain brain damage or even die from heatstroke in just 15 minutes. A similar bill has passed one chamber in New Jersey. Washington, D.C. passed a law to protect dogs from being left outside to suffer in extreme temperatures such as freezing cold.

Puppy Mills and Pet Stores: Maryland passed new laws to strengthen regulations of commercial dog breeding operations and to require pet stores to obtain animal welfare inspection reports directly from breeders and post them in the store for consumers to see. The New Jersey legislature passed a bill to crack down on the sale of puppy mill dogs in the state, including those sold at pet stores, flea markets, and over the Internet, which is currently awaiting a decision from Governor Christie. We defeated harmful bills in Illinois, Georgia, and Tennessee that would have blocked local communities from setting restrictions on pet stores and puppy mills.

Wildlife Killing: The Maryland legislature passed a two-year moratorium on cruel contest killing of cownose rays (named for their uniquely-shaped heads), and that bill is now on the governor’s desk. Participants in contests compete to shoot the heaviest rays, making pregnant females prime targets, then haul them onto boats and often bludgeon them with a metal bat or hammer. Some rays are still alive when thrown into piles and slowly suffocate to death. The Florida wildlife commission voted to stop the trophy hunting of black bears for the next two years, obviating the need for action on a bill in the legislature that would have imposed a 10-year hunting moratorium. In 2015, trophy hunters killed 304 black bears, including dozens of nursing mothers, leaving their orphaned cubs to die of starvation or predation.

Greyhound Racing: The West Virginia legislature passed a measure to eliminate state funding to subsidize greyhound racing, but unfortunately the governor vetoed the bill. Kansas lawmakers made the right bet by defeating a bill that would have reinstated greyhound racing eight years after the last tracks closed in the state.

Blocking Big Ag: On the heels of a crushing defeat for their “right to farm” amendment in the November election, Oklahoma politicians tried to double down and create “prosperity districts”—vast parts of the state that would be exempt from regulations. We blocked the corporate power grab that could have deregulated puppy mills, factory farms, and other large-scale cruelties. 

Funding for Animal Welfare: West Virginia enacted legislation dedicating a funding source from the sale of pet food to be used for low-cost spaying and neutering of dogs and cats to combat pet homelessness. Arizona created a voluntary contribution via a check-off box on tax forms to fund much-needed affordable spay and neuter services. New York’s final state budget included $5 million for a new Companion Animal Capital Fund, providing local shelters and humane societies with matching grants for capital projects.

Captive Wildlife: The Illinois Senate passed a bill to ban the use of elephants in performing circuses and travelling shows, and similar bills are pending in Massachusetts, Maine, and New York. More than 125 other localities in 33 states have also restricted the use of wild animals in circuses and traveling shows—just this week, Los Angeles passed a city ordinance to ban wild animal acts. In addition, the Alabama House has advanced a bill to ban big cats and wolves as pets and the South Carolina House has passed a bill to ban possession of big cats, bears, and great apes—these are two of the only remaining states with no restrictions on owning dangerous wild animals as pets.

Thursday, April 06, 2017

Recognizing Humane Legislators on Capitol Hill

Last night, the Humane Society Legislative Fund and The Humane Society of the United States co-hosted the annual Congressional Humane Awards to honor a bipartisan group of lawmakers who led the way for animals during the last year. Dozens of Senators and Representatives plus staff members from additional offices (and two adorable office dogs) attended the event in the U.S. Capitol to celebrate the federal lawmakers who are working to make the world a better place for animals.

Photo by Bill Petros/For The HSUS
Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., (center), seen here with HSUS President and CEO Wayne Pacelle (right) and me, was honored with a 2016 Humane Legislator of the Year award. Photo by Bill Petros/For The HSUS

The top awards this year went to Sens. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Reps. Ed Royce, R-Calif., and John Shimkus, R-Ill., who were honored as the 2016 Humane Legislators of the Year. The Humane Legislator of the Year award recognizes federal lawmakers who have initiated path-breaking animal protection legislation and demonstrably advanced these reforms through the legislative process. These Members of Congress were chosen because of their significant leadership roles and effectiveness, including the enactment of two major legislative victories they shepherded to passage.

In June 2016, Congress passed the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, which reauthorized the 40-year-old Toxic Substances Control Act. Sen. Booker championed provisions in the Senate version of the bill to reduce, and ultimately replace, the use of live animals for chemical testing, and advocated for inclusion of that language in the final law. As the bill’s House sponsor, Rep. Shimkus was instrumental in negotiating the final package and successfully retaining these provisions to phase out archaic, costly, and non-predictive animal testing protocols in favor of 21st century technology. This action will accelerate the movement away from animal tests for safety substantiation of chemicals, as well as pesticides, biocides, cosmetics, and other regulated substances—potentially savings millions of animals in the years to come. The new scientific approach will be much faster, less costly, more reliable, and far more humane.

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Rep. John Shimkus receiving the 2016 Humane Legislator Award from HSLF Senior Vice President and Executive Director Sara Amundson. Photo by Bill Petros/For The HSUS

Signed into law in October 2016, the Eliminate, Neutralize, and Disrupt (END) Wildlife Trafficking Act provides tools to combat the global poaching crisis that threatens elephants, rhinos, tigers, and other species with extinction. Rep. Royce sponsored and secured House passage of this bill, which supports global anti-poaching efforts and increases U.S. collaboration with NGOs and governments of countries affected by wildlife trafficking. Sen. Feinstein sponsored related legislation and ensured that the final package included provisions that allow serious wildlife crimes to trigger substantial penalties under money-laundering statutes, thereby reducing the profitability of poaching and wildlife trafficking. As a member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations, Feinstein also fought for animals on several fronts in the FY16 omnibus spending package, including as part of the leadership team on an amendment that prevents horse slaughter plants from reopening on U.S. soil.

Sen. Booker and Rep. Royce also introduced the Shark Fin Trade Elimination Act to crack down on brutal shark finning. If enacted, this legislation would make the United States a global leader setting an example for other nations to end the destructive shark fin trade—reducing the number of sharks mutilated for their fins and left to die at sea, just for a bowl of soup. Sen. Booker is part of the duo leading an effort in the Senate to require greater transparency in pork and beef checkoff programs used as a slush fund by agribusiness lobbying groups.  In addition, he’s trying to create a pilot program at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to provide service dogs to wounded veterans. He’s fought the use of steel-jawed leghold traps, including on national wildlife refuges, and excluded “trapping” from the definition of “hunting” to assure that using body-gripping traps is not a priority on federal lands.

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Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., receiving the 2016 Humane Legislator of the Year Award from Wayne Pacelle. Photo by Bill Petros/For the HSUS

In addition to their legislative work, these leaders also weighed in with federal agencies on critical rulemaking efforts.  In 2016, Sens. Booker and Feinstein encouraged the U.S. Department of Agriculture to finalize a rule stopping the mistreatment of downer veal calves—those too sick, injured, or weak to stand on their own. Sen. Feinstein also led a letter urging the USDA to strengthen significantly outdated animal care standards for captive marine mammals.

In addition to honoring these extraordinary legislators, The HSUS and HSLF recognized a broader, bipartisan group of outstanding lawmakers based on their leadership on animal protection issues and their ratings on the 2016 Humane Scorecard. In total, 200 legislators—51 in the Senate and 149 in the House (representing 39 states)—were honored for their work in 2016. The animal protection community is grateful to all of these Members of Congress who are helping to forge a path to a more humane future through their demonstrated leadership. Congratulations to the recipients of the 2016 Humane Awards.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Why not “drain the swamp” of animal abuse?

President Trump’s preliminary budget proposes major cuts in programs related to foreign aid, poverty relief programs, and the environment, and the budget proposal eliminates entire programs supporting public broadcasting, the arts, and humanities. From our lane at HSLF, the one burning question is why there aren’t any cuts in factory farming subsidies, lethal predator control, and other giveaways of American tax dollars to coddled special interests?

Capitol
iStock Photo

If he was in the hunt for programs to cut, in order to save tax dollars and balance the budget, this government pork should have been first on the list. These programs have been long overdue for trimming and elimination, and we hope those specifics are part of the president’s full budget proposal expected in a few months.

Of course, the president’s first budget is a starting point, and needs to be negotiated and approved by Congress. As lawmakers work through the process and endeavor to downsize the government, we strongly urge them to look at areas that are ripe for cuts and savings:

  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services program is an outdated and inefficient model of lethal predator control, essentially operating as a government subsidy for private ranchers, and wasting millions of dollars each year killing wolves, mountain lions, bears, and other wildlife with cruel methods such as poisoning, aerial gunning, and steel-jawed leghold traps. In some cases, the government spends more money than the losses attributed to these creatures. Even family pets and threatened and endangered species are killed with the indiscriminate, lethal methods employed by this wasteful federal program. A 14-year-old boy walking his dog in Idaho recently triggered an M-44 “cyanide bomb” set by Wildlife Services to kill coyotes, and the 3-year-old Lab, Casey, was killed by the toxic explosion. It’s not only a waste of tax dollars, but a threat to families everywhere.
  • The USDA can also stop the multi-million dollar subsidies for big pork and other factory farming interests, and let the free market take the place of government hand-outs. The government bail outs of factory farms (through purchasing of their surplus meat—often dumping the worst products on our nation’s school lunch program) are not only costly, but do nothing to encourage such operations to rein in their production or clean up their cruel, unhealthy, and environmentally damaging methods. USDA should rein in the National Pork Board, which is funneling check-off dollars—a tax paid by every pig farmer supposedly for marketing efforts—to a D.C. lobbying group. This $60 million boondoggle is essentially a slush fund for the National Pork Producers Council and its efforts to fight against animal welfare and family farmers. You could not find a stronger example of crony capitalism taking advantage of government benefits.
  • The Bureau of Land Management 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.
  • Refocus government safety-testing efforts on high-tech, animal-free approaches. Each year federal agencies spend hundreds of millions of tax dollars to assess the safety of chemicals, drugs, and even natural plant extracts. Evaluating the cancer-causing potential of a single chemical in a conventional rodent test takes up to 5 years, 800 animals, and $4 million. For the same price and without any use of animals, as many as 350 chemicals could be tested in less than one week using ultra-fast robot-automated cellular toxicity and gene-expression tests. These sophisticated, animal-free methods are already used by some companies and federal agencies to determine testing needs and priorities, and are poised to be accelerated by the passage of the TSCA reform bill last year. Funding should focus on research and development of these methods, in order to stop spending on wasteful and inefficient animal tests.

Lawmakers should consider these proposals as part of their larger effort to wrestle with the country’s budget. Millions of animals would be spared needless suffering, the U.S. budget would be moved toward the black, and we would begin to “drain the swamp” of special interests that have been bilking the American taxpayers for all too long.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Federal law has big impact on animal fighting

The original federal law to curb some aspects of animal fighting (adopted in 1976) did not prompt a single prosecution for more than a quarter century, even though dogfighting and cockfighting went on in thousands of dark corners and even some brightly lit arenas every year in the U.S. That’s why HSLF went to work to strengthen the law and make it more viable and effective. We’ve upgraded the law four times in the last 15 years, the latest upgrade in 2014. I’m pleased to report on a clear example of the new, stronger framework—criminalizing the act of bringing a minor to a fight. This improvement to the law is making a difference in the real world:

Last month, a Virginia man was sentenced to two years in prison for taking a minor to cockfight in Kentucky. This is a direct result of the passage of the Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act, which was strongly backed by The HSUS and HSLF and included as a provision in the 2014 Farm Bill. 

Wv-cockfighting-raid-270x240
Heather Severt/The HSUS
Example of a cockfighting ring in
WV busted by The HSUS

The law made it a federal crime to attend a dogfight or cockfight, and a federal felony to bring a child to one. In prior years, we also convinced Congress to outlaw the sale of fighting birds, upgrade animal fighting to a felony offense, and ban the possession of fighting animals.

These upgraded federal laws are rooting out this despicable behavior. Last year, a cockfighting pit in Citronelle, Alabama, was shut down by federal authorities, after multiple undercover investigations conducted by the FBI and The HSUS. During the execution of the search warrant, authorities uncovered a huge arena with bleacher seating, concession stands, trophies, cockfighting paraphernalia, and rental holding spaces for participants’ birds with space for more than 1,000 animals.

Also last year, a federal investigation into suspected dogfighting operations led to the rescue of 66 dogs and the seizure of dogfighting paraphernalia at properties in New Jersey, Illinois, Indiana, New Mexico, and Washington, D.C. The case was led by the U.S. Department of Justice, with assistance from The HSUS, and nine individuals were charged as part of a coordinated effort across numerous federal judicial districts to combat organized dogfighting.

The recent case, however, is especially noteworthy as the first time anyone has been prosecuted under the federal statute for bringing a child to a cockfight. (There have been previous prosecutions for attending dogfights.) And there’s more. The man sentenced for his role in cockfighting at the Big Blue Sportsmen’s Club in McDowell, Kentucky, also pleaded guilty to distribution of hydrocodone. Of course we’ve known that animal fighting goes hand in hand with other crimes, and the adults who bring children to these spectacles expose them to drugs, violence, and bloodletting.

The children, of course, pay a high price for witnessing the cruelty of animal fighting first hand. Research shows that regularly being exposed to animal cruelty puts children at serious risk. When children become accustomed to the pain and suffering they witness, they become desensitized. Not only are they at risk of becoming animal fighters themselves, they are at risk of becoming involved in crimes against people.

Also, with the FBI now tracking animal cruelty crimes in the uniform crime reporting database, and organizations like the National Sheriffs Association speaking out forcefully against animal cruelty, we should see more enforcement of all animal fighting laws. The HSUS is also training thousands of law enforcement agents across the country on how to enforce laws against cockfighting and dogfighting. 

It was less than 20 years ago that cockfighting was still legal in five states. The HSUS and HSLF marched state by state to close the gaps in the legal framework on animal fighting. And because many of the dogfights and cockfights are multi-state and multi-jurisdictional, we worked with our allies in Congress to fortify the federal statute as a complement to the state laws. We are now seeing the results of all that work paying off for animals and for communities around the country, and we are grateful to all the lawmakers who advocated for tougher laws to crack down on the scourge of animal fighting.

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Maryland seeks to close the door on the trade of imperiled wild animal products

Following the worrying results of an investigation into the sale of wildlife products from imperiled species within its  borders, Maryland lawmakers are taking steps to make sure that their state no longer has a hand in this destructive trade.

Md-wildlife-investigation
photo courtesy of The HSUS
An example of an elephant ivory piece found for
sale at the Baltimore Antiques Show

The Humane Society of the United States today released the results of an investigation conducted late last year that uncovered products of imperiled species, notably elephant ivory jewelry and collectibles, for sale in stores and markets throughout Maryland. Investigators found that at least 30 sellers at antique stores and malls, auction companies, consignment stores, and jewelers across Maryland had elephant ivory items for sale. Leopard fur was also found for sale at a Frederick antique mall.

With only one exception, none of the sellers offering ivory or leopard fur would provide documentation to investigators to verify the age or origin of the products. That lack of documentation and transparency makes it impossible to know if the products were genuine antiques, for example, or from more recently killed elephants, imported in violation of the federal law on selling African elephant ivory.

The investigation also found that several sellers at a popular art and jewelry show in Baltimore had traveled from other states, including New York—where, thanks to 2014 legislation supported by HSLF, The HSUS, and other wildlife conservation and protection groups, the sale of ivory is now illegal.

When asked, many Maryland antique sellers claimed ignorance of existing laws regulating the sale of ivory, while others seemed to deliberately confuse or mislead potential customers.

In a survey conducted last year, an overwhelming 83 percent of Maryland residents said they support legislation to curtail this trafficking within their state’s borders, to help save the world’s most majestic and endangered wildlife from extinction and cruelty. With broad support, state legislators have introduced a package of bills, H.B. 686/S.B. 560, to prohibit the sale of these products in the state.

The poaching of imperiled species is a growing global crisis, and the U.S. is one of the world’s largest retail markets and  a major contributor to the $20 billion illegal wildlife trade. We must do all we can to stop poaching of wildlife in range countries, but we can also take action here at home to reduce the demand that creates global instability and pushes many iconic animals to the brink of extinction.

The actions by poachers are immensely cruel and even as they decimate the populations of these species, they threaten the economies of many nations dependent on wildlife tourism. Poachers hack off an elephant’s or rhino’s face, sometimes while the animal is still alive, to retrieve their tusks or horn. Every year approximately 35,000 elephants are killed in Africa to supply the demand for their ivory. The savanna elephant population has declined by 144,000, or 30 percent of the population, since 2007, primarily from poaching.

Other iconic animals aren’t faring any better. Cheetahs have lost an estimated 91 percent of their historic habitat and fewer than 7,100 remain in the wild. At least 1,305 rhinos were poached across Africa in 2015 out of only 29,000 remaining in the wild. All seven sea turtles species are threatened with extinction. There are only 3,200 tigers left in the wild. African lion populations have declined by 43 percent since 1993 and are still declining.

Evidence and seizure data suggest that poaching and wildlife trafficking is the fourth largest transnational crime, after the trafficking of drugs and people, and counterfeiting. In the case of ivory, armed militia and terrorist groups on the African continent engage in elephant poaching and ivory trafficking to finance their nefarious operations. Many agencies, including INTERPOL and the United Nations Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, recognize the increasing involvement of organized syndicates in wildlife crime.

The federal government has an important role to play, and we made progress last year with the passage of the END Wildlife Trafficking Act in Congress and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s rule to close loopholes in the domestic ivory trade. But states must also take action to help dry up demand for poached products within their own borders. There is strong and bipartisan support for these laws, as seen in huge ballot measure victories by HSLF and our coalition partners—winning 70 percent of the statewide votes in Washington in 2015 and Oregon in 2016 to ban the trade in wildlife parts.

The new legislation in Maryland would keep the products of elephants, rhinoceros, tigers, lions, leopards, cheetahs, jaguars, sea turtles, and great apes off the market, ensuring that consumers do not unwittingly contribute to the illegal wildlife trade. Maryland can join California, Hawaii, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, and Washington which have passed similar laws—building momentum in the fight to shut down local markets that allow so many to continue seeking profit from destructive wildlife trafficking.

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