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In the News

Thursday, June 21, 2018

From Atlanta to Umbabat, American trophy hunters pose a threat to endangered species

This week, the International Wildlife Conservation Council, a Department of the Interior advisory group dominated by big-game trophy hunters, held its second public meeting, in Atlanta. This advisory group seeks to promote the trophy hunting of charismatic animal species on the taxpayer dime—and questions and discussions at the meeting underscored that the council aims to weaken existing protections for threatened and endangered species, all to make it easier for trophy hunters to import animal trophies into the United States.

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Skye, the lion, who was allegedly killed by a
trophy hunter

Council members appeared miffed by the widespread negative perception of trophy hunting and attributed this to the American public’s lack of understanding about the purported multitude of conservation benefits that they themselves attribute to trophy hunting. They also sounded the customary—and false—note that animals will go extinct if trophy hunting were stopped.

This council’s membership is stacked with trophy hunting enthusiasts, celebrity hunters, and industry lobbyists, and the two public proceedings they have held so far have demonstrated how it’s imbalanced and outside the mainstream of American views on conservation and wildlife protection. The council takes the Orwellian approach that the only way to save wild animals from going extinct is to shoot them.

A 2017 analysis found that trophy hunting has relatively low economic value as a wildlife-related activity. While tourism contributes to at most 5.1 percent of the GDP among the eight African study countries, the total economic contribution of trophy hunting is at most about 0.03 percent of that figure. Foreign hunters make up less than 0.1 percent of tourists on average and they contribute 0.78 percent or less of the $17 billion in overall tourism spending. Trophy hunting’s contribution to tourism employment is only 0.76 percent or less of average direct tourism employment.       

Moreover, the trophy hunting of imperiled species is biologically unsustainable. Trophy hunters target the biggest and strongest animals with impressive tusks, horns, manes, and other distinguishing characteristics. Science has shown that trophy hunting alters the biological characteristics and population dynamics of the hunted species, too.   

In a terrible coincidence, just days before the Atlanta meeting, we learned of the alleged killing of a male lion named Skye in the Umbabat Private Nature Reserve adjacent to the Kruger National Park. Reportedly, the lion was baited to facilitate the hunt; in any event, Skye has not been seen since June 7 when the hunt took place, according to local sources, and it’s possible that an American hunter could be responsible for his death. 

Skye, with his stunning mane and majestic posture, is a favorite subject of wildlife photographers and tourists. He’s a dominant male who heads a pride known to frequent both the Kruger National Park and Umbabat; the pride consists of three cubs, three sub-adults, and six lionesses.

One of the pride’s young cubs has reportedly been killed by a competing pride following Skye’s disappearance. If the cub’s killing is confirmed, it is a somber reminder that trophy hunting of lions carries a significant ecological price tag affecting not just the animal hunted but also the pride members left behind.  

The Umbabat Private Nature Reserve and the Mpumalanga Parks and Tourism Agency, the provincial authority that grants permits for trophy hunts, have vehemently denied that the hunted lion was Skye. However, they have not publicly presented photographic evidence of the hunted animal to verify this; nor have they granted third party requests to view and examine the skin of the hunted lion. Photographs are especially critical to establishing a hunted animal’s identity. Skye, for example, has a distinguishing scar under his left eye and S-shaped scar on his right flank.

Even if the killed lion is not Skye, it is a cause for alarm that lions protected in Kruger National Park could fall victim to senseless and bloody trophy hunting when they step over its invisible geographical boundaries into the adjoining private reserves. More than 1.4 million visitors flock to Kruger National Park each year to view wildlife, including lions, bringing in tens of millions of dollars and thousands of jobs. In South Africa, trophy hunting brings in only 1.2 percent of the income brought in by tourism. Math makes the indictment real: trophy hunting is robbing South Africa of the very thing that tourists will pay to see, over and over again: live lions and other animals. A lion or elephant can be enjoyed alive by hundreds or thousands of photographers and tourists—but only killed once by a trophy hunter.

It’s a long way from Atlanta to Umbabat, but there is a direct connection between the formation of the International Wildlife Conservation Council and the growing threat to threatened and endangered animal species in Africa and elsewhere. The United States has long been the world’s largest importer of lion hunting trophies—even though the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed African lions as threatened and endangered in 2016, the agency continues to allow American hunters to import lion trophies from certain African countries, including South Africa. The Service is responsible for forging an intelligent conservation policy and it would be unlawful for it to rely on advice from a council stacked with big-game trophy hunters. South Africa has approximately 2,800 of the 20,000 lions in the world, and we need to do what we can to keep every one of them alive.

Please take a minute to send a letter to USFWS and ask them to deny any application to import wild lion trophies from South Africa.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Animals fare better in the Senate Farm Bill as it makes it way out of committee

Today, the U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee approved its Farm Bill—and it’s a much brighter picture for animals than the House counterpart bill.  We are grateful to Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) and Ranking Democrat Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) for working together to craft a bipartisan bill that avoids major anti-animal provisions and includes an important pro-animal measure. 

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The HSUS

A highlight of the Senate bill is that it contains nothing like the outrageous power grab Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) tacked on the House bill. Rep King’s measure aims to impose a lowest-common-denominator approach across the country. Under the King amendment, if any one state permits the production or sale of a particular agricultural product, no matter how hazardous the product or unacceptable the production process, every other state could have to do so as well. This could undermine hundreds of duly-enacted laws reflecting the public will on a wide range of concerns—for example, bans on the sale of horse and dog meat, laws against the sale of products that are the result of extreme confinement of farm animals, and sales of  dogs from puppy mills, as well as a host of other issues such as food safety, child labor, pesticide exposure, diseased livestock, manure management, alcohol, raw milk, seed standards, fire-safe cigarettes, import of firewood free from invasive pests, and labeling of flagship state products such as catfish, wild-caught salmon, maple syrup, and wine. A bipartisan group of 119 Representatives and more than 200 organizations from across the political spectrum —including FreedomWorks, Fraternal Order of Police, Natural Resources Defense Council, Consumers Union, National Farmers Union, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, United Farm Workers, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, National Conference of State Legislatures, and National League of Cities—have joined us in opposing King’s dangerous legislation. We will work to ensure that the Senate bill remains free of this poison pill, and push to keep it out of the final Senate/House package, as we were able to do in the 2014 Farm Bill when King last tried this.

We are thrilled that Chairman Roberts and Ranking Member Stabenow included, in the Farm Bill they brought to the committee, essential language mirroring the Pet and Women Safety (PAWS) Act, S. 322, introduced by Sens. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) and Dean Heller (R-Nev.). The PAWS provision will help protect battered partners and their pets by extending current federal domestic violence protections to include pets, and authorizing grant money to help domestic violence shelters accommodate pets (only 3 percent currently allow pets) or arrange for pet shelter. Many delay their decision to leave a violent situation out of fear for their pets’ safety, a legitimate fear considering up to 84 percent of women entering shelters reported that their partners abused or killed the family pet. While 32 states have adopted similar legislation, PAWS will provide protection across the country. The PAWS legislation is supported by a broad network of domestic violence, law enforcement, veterinary, and animal welfare organizations.

We’re also relieved that Sen. David Perdue (R-GA) decided not to pursue his amendment to eliminate the Animal Welfare Act requirement that USDA conduct annual inspections at animal research laboratories. Having an inspection once a year to check for compliance with minimal standards on such issues as food, water, and basic veterinary care is certainly not an onerous burden. It would be a terrible mistake to make these federal inspections less frequent, especially since 20 percent of research facilities were cited for violations during just a 6-month period last year. Rep. David Rouzer (R-N.C.) had filed a similar amendment to the House Farm Bill, but it did not get a floor vote.

As the Farm Bill heads to the Senate floor, we hope there will be further opportunities to consider these additional worthy animal welfare provisions:

  • Checkoff: Opportunities for Fairness in Farming (OFF) Act, S. 741/H.R. 1753, to make agricultural commodity checkoff programs—such as those for beef, pork, and dairy—more transparent and accountable and prevent checkoff dollars from being misused to lobby against animal welfare reforms and family farmers. This legislation is endorsed by more than 80 farm organizations representing over 250,000 family farmers and ranchers, as noted in this op-ed.
  • Animal Fighting: Parity in Animal Cruelty Enforcement (PACE) Act, S. 2971/H.R. 4202, to clarify that federal prohibitions against dogfighting and cockfighting activity affecting interstate or foreign commerce apply to all U.S. jurisdictions, including the U.S. territories. This provision will protect animals from vicious cruelty, protect communities from criminal activity often linked to animal fighting such as drug trafficking and gangs, protect public health and the food supply from bird flu and other disease transmission, and enhance enforcement of federal animal fighting law across the U.S. It was incorporated into the House Farm Bill by an overwhelming bipartisan vote of 359-51.
  • Dog and Cat Meat: Dog and Cat Meat Prohibition Act, S. 1406, to ban the slaughter, trade, import, and export of dogs and cats for human consumption. While uncommon in this country, the practice does occur and only six states have laws against it. This legislation, incorporated into the House Farm Bill by voice vote in committee, will prevent the appalling dog and cat meat trade from taking hold in the U.S. and strengthen our hand in seeking to end it worldwide.

We look forward to working with Chairman Roberts and Senator Stabenow to sustain the pro-animal positions in the bill approved by the Agriculture Committee today, and build on this package as the Farm Bill advances.  As always, our success will depend on your continued engagement. Contact your two U.S. Senators today and ask that the Farm Bill protects animals.

Friday, May 18, 2018

The King amendment is dead—for now—with House failure of Farm Bill

Today, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to kill the highly controversial Farm Bill. Although it contained some positive provisions for animals, on balance we called for the bill’s defeat because it contained an extremely sweeping and harmful provision—the “Protect Interstate Commerce Act” (H.R. 4879) inserted in committee by Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa). This radical federal overreach could nullify hundreds of state and local laws pertaining to agriculture products, including laws to restrict farm animal confinement, ban the slaughter of horses, and crack down on  puppy mills. A wide range of other concerns could be affected too, in such domains as food safety, environmental protection, promotion of local agriculture, and labor standards. Finally, the King legislation is a sweeping and radical attack on states’ rights and local decision-making authority. For these reasons, more than 200 organizations from across the political spectrum have gone on the record to oppose it, as did a bipartisan set of 119 Representatives led by Reps. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.) and Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.).

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Photo courtesy of iStock.com

Although the Farm Bill posed a major threat due to the King amendment, we were very pleased that the bill contained an amendment offered in committee by Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.) to ban the slaughter, trade, import, and export of dogs and cats for human consumption. While uncommon in this country, the practice does occur and only six states have laws against it. It is important for Congress to retain this provision in subsequent action on the Farm Bill, to prevent this appalling dog and cat meat trade from taking hold in the U.S. and strengthen our hand in seeking to end it worldwide.

Additionally, Congress should retain an amendment that passed today on the House floor by an overwhelming bipartisan vote of 359-51 to strengthen federal law on animal fighting. This amendment, sponsored by Reps. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.), Blumenauer, John Faso (R-N.Y.), and Steve Knight (R-Calif.), clarifies that federal prohibitions against dogfighting and cockfighting activity apply to all U.S. jurisdictions, including the U.S. territories. The amendment will protect animals from vicious cruelty, protect communities from criminal activity often linked to animal fighting such as drug trafficking and gangs, protect public health and the food supply from bird flu and other disease transmission, and enhance enforcement of federal animal fighting law across the U.S. It mirrors the bipartisan Parity in Animal Cruelty Enforcement (PACE) Act, H.R. 4202. Forcing animals to fight to the death just for entertainment and gambling should be illegal no matter where it occurs.

Finally, we’re disappointed that House leadership denied votes on other critical animal protection measures. The House Rules Committee blocked consideration of an amendment by Reps. Tom Marino (R-Pa.), Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) to crack down on cruel and illegal “soring” of show horses. The amendment would have helped bring an end to the cruel practice of soring Tennessee walking horses and related breeds by directing USDA to fix its weak regulations that have allowed the problem to persist for decades. It mirrors the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, H.R. 1847, which has 281 cosponsors; but even with nearly two-thirds of House members cosponsoring the bill it was denied an up-or-down vote. Another amendment dealing with transparency and accountability requirements for agricultural commodity checkoff programs was withdrawn.

We thank everyone around the country who weighed in with their members of Congress to keep anti-animal welfare language out of the Farm Bill and to include critical animal protection provisions. As the House turns back to putting together a Farm Bill with stronger bipartisan support, we urge legislators to remove the intensely controversial King language and, as in past Farm Bills, include advances for animals such as the already approved provisions on animal fighting and the dog and cat meat trade as well as others.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

House Ag Committee votes to keep dogs and cats off the menu but obliterates states’ ability to protect animals

Today's blog post is guest written by Humane Society Legislative Fund's new president, Sara Amundson.

Today, the U.S. House Agriculture Committee passed the 2018 Farm Bill on a straight party-line vote, and now the bill advances for a vote by the full House of Representatives.

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Leandro Hernandez/i.Stock.com

Despite one bright spot, the bill is fraught with peril for animals. The committee adopted a disastrous proposal that is nothing short of an assault on animal welfare and states’ rights. Members approved by voice vote an amendment offered by Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, based on his H.R. 4879, that could upend countless state and local laws across a wide range of concerns including animal protection, food safety, labor, and environmental protection.

King’s legislation is highly controversial—a diverse array of more than 180 groups opposes it—and it must be kept out of the final Farm Bill. It takes a “race to the bottom” approach by mandating that if any one state tolerates the way a particular agricultural product is manufactured or produced—no matter how hazardous the product or unacceptable the production process involved—every other state could be forced to accept it or to acquiesce. King’s amendment has the potential to wipe out state laws protecting animals used for food from intensive confinement, such as California’s Proposition 2, and could also negate state-level efforts to combat puppy mills and sales of foie gras, shark fins, and even meat from horses, dogs, and cats. It also could negate state laws on everything from pesticide exposure to child labor, fire-safe cigarettes, alcohol, and seed standards.

Representative Jeff Denham, R-Calif., offered a substitute to King’s amendment, co-led by Rep. Jim Costa, D-Calif, requesting a study of the impacts on interstate commerce of numerous state laws. Denham also spoke eloquently about the broad adverse impacts of King’s legislation. Unfortunately, his substitute amendment failed, despite bipartisan support.

"This proposal goes far beyond attacking California egg production and beyond its guise of protecting interstate commerce. Rather, it indiscriminately targets any and all state laws that can be deemed a burden to out of state entities. Even laws democratically passed by popular vote, which, in California, Prop 2 was passed by a popular vote of the people."  - Rep. Denham

Although we are outraged by the addition of the King amendment to the Farm Bill, and we’re preparing to fight it with all we’ve got, we did score an important victory for dogs and cats in committee, thanks to an amendment offered by Rep. Denham to protect these animals from the inhumane dog and cat meat trade. This provision, if enacted, will prohibit the domestic slaughter, trade and import/export of dogs and cats for human consumption. It would prevent the dog and cat meat trade from taking hold in the U.S., serve as a symbol of unity with countries that have already enacted bans, and give us greater standing to encourage other nations to follow suit.

The American public has vocally called for passage of the dog and cat meat ban—originally introduced as H.R. 1406 by Reps. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla., Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., Dave Trott, R-Mich, and Brendan Boyle, D-Pa.—which has bipartisan support of 239 cosponsors. Congress should ensure that this language is included in the final version of the Farm Bill.

We must and will continue to work tirelessly to ensure that the final Farm Bill includes strong protections for animals. Please call your U.S. representative and two U.S. senators (you can find his or her contact information here) and urge them to reject Rep. Steve King’s egregious Farm Bill amendment and support the Dog and Cat Meat Trade Prohibition Act. Furthermore, although the House Agriculture Committee did not include additional safeguards to prevent horse soring, animal fighting, and domestic violence against pets, please let your legislators know that the final bill should include these vital protections as well.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

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 some charming 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.

The top awards this year went to Reps. Chris Smith, R-N.J., and Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Calif., who were honored as the 2017 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.

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Bill Petros/For The HSUS
Rep. Smith with HSLF president, Michael Markarian
and acting HSUS president and CEO, Kitty Block.

For 18 years, Rep. Smith has been the lead Republican mobilizing his colleagues to seek needed funds and provisions to enforce key animal welfare laws. Working closely with Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., he has steadily built bipartisan support, with a record 184 Representatives joining the effort in 2017 and 190 this year. Their joint annual letters to the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee have been remarkably effective—for example, more than tripling funding for the Animal Welfare Act (which requires basic standards of care for millions of animals at breeding operations, laboratories, zoos, and other facilities) from $9 million per year in the 1990s to $30.8 million in FY18, despite challenging budget constraints. These letters have delivered results on a wide range of concerns, including enforcement of laws on animal fighting, humane slaughter, and soring of Tennessee Walking Horses and related breeds, as well as programs to ease the shortage of veterinarians in underserved areas and to address the needs of animals in disaster planning and response. Last year’s letter called on the U.S. Department of Agriculture to restore inspection reports and other documents abruptly purged from the agency’s website in February 2017, leaving the public in the dark about violators of the AWA and the Horse Protection Act on soring. The House Appropriations committee report addressed this issue last July and the FY18 omnibus included even stronger language directing USDA to promptly restore online searchable access to this information. Smith led a letter to Agriculture Secretary Perdue last month protesting the agency’s plan to outsource AWA oversight to third-party inspectors in the regulated industries, including puppy mills, labs and roadside zoos.

Additionally, Smith co-led a letter to USDA in 2015 voicing support for a proposed rule—finalized the following year—to humanely euthanize downer calves (those too sick, injured or weak to stand and walk on their own) rather than sending them through to the food supply. In the wake of an exposé on cruel treatment at the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center, Smith led a letter to Appropriations Committee conferees urging that the final FY16 legislation require federal facilities conducting research on farm animals to comply with AWA standards, something the omnibus did. Smith has for years been the lead Republican sponsor of the Pet Safety and Protection Act to end theft of pets sold into research by Class B dealers. He sponsored the End Neglected Tropical Diseases Act to improve research and treatment of rabies among other diseases, legislation approved by the Foreign Affairs Committee in November 2017. He has also voted in favor of animals consistently on the House floor, such as rejecting efforts to allow extreme trophy hunting methods of wolves and grizzly bears on National Wildlife Refuges and National Park Service land in Alaska. 

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Bill Petros/For The HSUS
Rep. Roybal-Allard with HSLF president, Michael Markarian,
acting HSUS president and CEO, Kitty Block,
and HSLF executive director, Sara Amundson.

Rep. Roybal-Allard has been an exceptionally strong voice for animals used in research, testing, and education. She won enactment of appropriations provisions in each of the past three years (FY16-18) barring USDA from issuing licenses for Class B dealers selling “random source” dogs and cats. These dealers are notorious for keeping dogs and cats in awful conditions and obtaining them through fraudulent means—such as pet theft and misrepresenting their intentions when responding to “free to good home” ads—to sell them to research facilities. Roybal-Allard began laying groundwork for this achievement in 2008, when she first obtained committee report language on the Class B dealer issue. In 2017, she secured appropriations committee report language encouraging the National Institutes of Health to expedite retirement of NIH-owned chimpanzees and consider expanding the national chimpanzee sanctuary system to better accommodate the many animals needing space. She persuaded the U.S. Coast Guard to suspend for at least six months its use of live animals for trauma training, following reports of cruel procedures on goats, pressing the service to utilize high-tech human simulators that offer a superior training alternative. In 2015, she obtained appropriations committee report language calling on NIH to review (with outside experts) its ethical policies and processes for primate research. This provision helped spur NIH to develop a plan to shut down one of its primate facilities in Maryland where decades-long research had subjected infant monkeys to maternal deprivation, an issue she mobilized colleagues to protest in a 2014 letter to NIH. She co-introduced the Federal Accountability in Chemical Testing (FACT) Act in 2017 to improve reporting by the EPA, FDA, NIH, USDA and other government agencies on their efforts to replace live animal testing methods for chemicals, drugs, foods and other substances. 

Further, Rep. Roybal-Allard introduced an Appropriations Committee amendment and sought to co-lead a floor amendment in 2017 to prohibit USDA from spending tax dollars to oversee horse slaughter inspections, a provision that was incorporated in the final FY18 omnibus package and effectively blocks cruel horse slaughter operations from starting up this year on U.S. soil. She also worked to protect America’s wild horses and burros from slaughter for food consumption. She co-led a letter to President Trump objecting to USDA’s purge of inspection reports and other enforcement records under the Animal Welfare Act and the Horse Protection Act and requesting that the records be restored for public access. She has been a consistent champion across the full range of animal protection legislation, earning a 100+ on the 2017 Humane Scorecard.    

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 2017 Humane Scorecard. In total, 207 legislators—36 Senators and 171 Representatives and Delegates (representing 41 states and the Northern Mariana Islands)—were honored for their work in 2017. 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 2017 Humane Awards.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Horses, wolves, other animals win big in omnibus bill

For almost six months, Congress has delayed passing the 2018 budget to fund the government. Finally, the negotiations have ended. Congress and the White House have struck a deal, and late last night released a $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill, just 52 hours before a government shutdown deadline.

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Photo courtesy of hkuchera/iStock.com

As always, animal issues were part of the discussions and we worked tirelessly with our House and Senate animal protection champions and other groups to successfully fight for positive provisions and sufficient enforcement funding of our key animal protection laws and to stave off harmful riders to kill horses and wildlife.

We’re still going through 2,232-page bill, but we’ve spotted a lot of good news for animals. Here’s a breakdown of some of our top priority items in this massive spending bill: 

Horse Slaughter:

The bill includes language that prohibits wasteful government spending on horse slaughter inspections and effectively bans horse slaughter in the United States for human consumption. This language has been maintained all but one year since 2005, and ensures that millions of taxpayer dollars are not expended on resuming an inhumane and predatory practice in which young and healthy horses are rounded up by “kill buyers”—often misrepresenting their intentions—and their meat shipped to Europe and Japan.

Wild Horses and Burros:

The bill includes language to prevent the Bureau of Land Management and its contractors from sending wild horses to be slaughtered for human consumption, or from killing excess healthy horses and burros. A provision allowing wild horses removed from public lands to be transferred to federal, state, or local governments to serve as work horses continues to make clear that these horses cannot be destroyed for human consumption, or euthanized except upon the recommendation of a licensed veterinarian in cases of severe injury, illness, or advanced age. Additionally, the explanatory statement accompanying the omnibus criticizes the Department of Interior for failing to provide a comprehensive plan, and states that until DOI provides such plan and corresponding legislative recommendations, the slaughter prohibitions will be maintained and program resources will be reduced. The statement directs DOI to submit to the Appropriations Committees within 30 days of enactment of the bill a science-based, comprehensive proposal that “has the goal of reducing costs while improving the health and welfare of wild horses and burros, and the range.”

National Park Service Lands in Alaska:

The omnibus does not include any provision allowing inhumane and scientifically unjustified trophy hunting methods on National Preserves (a category of National Park Service lands) in Alaska. This is a particular victory because the House Interior Appropriations bill contained a rider to undo an NPS rule prohibiting such cruel trophy hunting methods, and in February 2017, Congress enacted a rollback of a similar U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rule prohibiting such practices—including luring grizzly bears with bait to shoot them at point-blank range, and killing wolf, black bear, and coyote mothers and their young at their dens—on 76 million acres of National Wildlife Refuges in Alaska.

Great Lakes Wolves:

The omnibus omits harmful language—which had been in both the House and Senate Interior Appropriations bills—directing the FWS to remove Endangered Species Act protections from wolves in the western Great Lakes states (Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Michigan) and Wyoming, and barring judicial review of the action. This action reaffirms that the FWS should make ESA listing decisions, based on the best available science; this is not something that Congress should do, cherry-picking species based on political whim and shutting the public out of the process.

Animal welfare Enforcement:

The omnibus provides increases in some key U.S. Department of Agriculture programs. It includes $30,810,000 ($2 million more than FY17) for enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act, including a directive for continued inspections of USDA’s Agricultural Research Service facilities that conduct research on farm animals to ensure their adherence to the AWA; $705,000 ($8,000 more) for enforcement of the Horse Protection Act, which prohibits cruel “soring” abuse of show horses; and $8,000,000 ($1.5 million more) for veterinary student loan repayment to encourage veterinarians to locate in underserved areas. It holds the line on other items such as oversight of the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act and funding for the Office of Inspector General which helps enforce the federal animal fighting statute and the AWA, HPA, and HMSA.

USDA Data Purge: 

The explanatory statement accompanying the omnibus includes this strong directive: “On February 3, 2017, USDA restricted the public's access to the search tool for the Animal Care Inspection System, saying it needed to conduct a comprehensive review of the information on its website. USDA is now posting heavily redacted inspection reports that make it difficult in certain cases for the public to understand the subject of the inspection, assess USDA's subsequent actions, and to evaluate the effectiveness of its enforcement. USDA's actions to date do not meet the requirements in H. Rpt. 115-232 that the online searchable database should allow analysis and comparison of data and include all inspection reports, annual reports, and other documents related to enforcement of animal welfare laws. USDA is directed to comply with these requirements and is reminded that as part of its oversight responsibilities, Congress has the right to make any inquiry it wishes into litigation in which USDA is involved. USDA is directed to respond to any such inquiries fully.”

Animal Testing Alternatives:

The omnibus sustains level funding of $21.41 million (rejecting a $4.24 million cut proposed by the President) for the Environmental Protection Agency’s Computational Toxicology program to develop replacements for traditional animal tests, as required in the 2016 reauthorization of the Toxic Substances Control Act. Additionally, it calls on the agency to finalize the report to create a pathway to reduce, and ultimately eliminate, animal testing under TSCA. Finally, it increases the National Institute of Health’s National Center for the Advancement of Translational Sciences by more than $36 million, which will help with the development of faster, more efficient, non-animal tests, rejecting a $212 million cut proposed by the President. 

Therapeutic Service Dog Training:

The omnibus doubles the funding for the Wounded Warrior Service Dog Program, providing $10 million compared to $5 million in FY17, for grants to nonprofits that train and provide therapeutic service dogs to veterans and active duty personnel facing physical injuries and emotional scars from their military service, including post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, blindness, loss of limb, and paralysis.   

Equine-Assisted Therapy:

The omnibus includes a $1 million increase for the Adaptive Sports Program that awards small grants for equine therapy, to expand this program that has focused in the past on helping veterans with physical disabilities to now include mental health issues including PTSD. 

VA Experiments on Dogs:

The omnibus prohibits the Department of Veterans Affairs funding of “research using canines unless: the scientific objectives of the study can only be met by research with canines; the study has been directly approved by the Secretary; and the study is consistent with the revised Department of Veterans Affairs canine research policy document released on December 18, 2017.” It also requires the VA Secretary to submit to the Appropriations Committees a “detailed report outlining under what circumstances canine research may be needed if there are no other alternatives, how often it was used during that time period, and what protocols are in place to determine both the safety and efficacy of the research.” 

Class B Dealers:

The omnibus contains the same language as in recent years prohibiting the USDA from licensing Class B random source dealers, who are notorious for keeping dogs and cats in awful conditions and obtaining them through fraudulent means such as pet theft to sell them to research facilities. 

Marine Mammal Commission:

The omnibus sustains funding for the Marine Mammal Commission, an independent federal agency whose mandate is to conserve marine mammals. While the President’s budget requested that the Commission’s budget be zeroed out, Congress recognizes the important role the Commission plays in seeking practical solutions to conservation challenges and human-caused impacts facing marine mammals. 

House Report Items (deemed approved because not changed in omnibus):

  • Chimpanzee Sanctuary—Encouraged NIH to expedite retirement of their chimpanzees and consider expanding the national chimpanzee sanctuary system.
  • Predator Poisons—Encouraged USDA’s Wildlife Services program to evaluate alternatives to M-44 cyanide bombs for livestock protection and overall safety.

There are some anti-animal provisions in the omnibus, such as exempting concentrated animal feeding operations from reporting toxic air emissions, and restating previously-enacted riders such as the prohibition on regulating toxic lead content in ammunition and fishing tackle which poisons wildlife.

But overall, this omnibus has a lot to cheer about for animals. We’re grateful for the inclusion of key language such as on horse slaughter and the USDA purge, for the funding increases, and for the removal of some extremely hostile provisions against wildlife. And we’re committed to keep pressing forward—with your essential help—to advance animal protection through the annual budget process.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

President’s budget a mixed bag for animals

Yesterday, the White House released President Trump’s budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2019, which continues the trend of spending cuts for some animal welfare programs. For example, two agencies that oversee animal protection are slated again for deep budget reductions—the Department of Interior by 17 percent and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration by 20 percent.

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Gary Alvis/iStock

Keep in mind that the budget proposal is a starting point, and still needs to be negotiated and approved by Congress. At this early stage in the process, here are some animal welfare programs that do not receive significant support in the President’s budget request:

Wild Horses and Burros

The Bureau of Land Management’s Wild Horse and Burro Program budget is cut by over $13 million, and once again does not include key protective language to prevent the commercial sale and killing of an unlimited number of wild horses and burros rounded up from federal lands. These majestic animals are protected under federal law, and it would betray the public trust to allow mass killing of them.

Horse Slaughter

Missing from the President’s budget is language specifying that funds will not be available to allow the slaughter of horses for human consumption. This is the second year in a row that the President has failed to include this protective language, and members of Congress will need to block the use of tax dollars for horse slaughter.

Animal Welfare

The Animal Plant Health and Inspection Service’s Animal Welfare program is slated to be cut by almost $500,000 from the level in the pending House and Senate FY18 bills. This is particularly troubling given that APHIS recently approved nearly 1,000 new licensees subject to Animal Welfare Act regulation. This expanding program needs adequate funding to fulfill its responsibility to ensure basic care for millions of animals at puppy mills, laboratories, roadside zoos, and other facilities as Congress and the public expect.

Marine Mammals

Again this year, 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 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 again would eliminate the U.S. Marine Mammal Commission, whose mandate is to conserve marine mammals. The commission notes  that it costs each American about one penny per year, and "sits at the juncture where science, policy, and economic factors are reconciled to meet the mandates of the [Marine Mammal Protection Act], which balance the demands of human activities with the protection of marine mammals and the environment that sustains them." It is imperative that the commission be funded to continue seeking practical solutions to conservation challenges facing marine mammals.

Alternatives to Animal Testing

The animal protection community celebrated the 2016 passage of legislation to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act, with language aimed at minimizing, and ultimately replacing, the use of animals in chemical safety tests. Funding for computational toxicology and other 21st century methods of risk assessment is essential to implement the law. Last year, President Trump’s budget went in the wrong direction by reducing EPA’s funding for alternatives development by a massive 28 percent. That budget request also reduced the National Institute of Health’s National Center for the Advancement of Translational Sciences by 19 percent. This year’s budget fares no better, reducing EPA’s computational toxicology program by over $4 million (nearly 20 percent) and reducing the NCATS program by over $200 million (nearly 30 percent).

Department of Justice Enforcement

The Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division plays a critical role in prosecuting a number of environmental statutes aimed at protecting millions of animals, including endangered and threatened species. The President’s FY19 budget request reduces ENRD’s budget by $3.7 million (3.5 percent), at a time when ENRD may be expected to respond to impacts on wildlife from expanded fossil fuel development, infrastructure, border security, and military readiness activities. 

Wildlife Trafficking

While the President’s FY19 budget declares the Administration’s commitment to combatting illegal wildlife trafficking, it cuts Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement funding by $5 million. It’s hard to square this reduction with the budget notes directing FWS to "cooperate with the State Department, other Federal agencies, and foreign governments to disrupt transportation routes connected to the illegal wildlife trafficking supply chain," "encourage foreign nations to enforce their wildlife laws," and "continue to cooperate with other nations to combat wildlife trafficking to halt the destruction of some of the world’s most iconic species, such as elephants and rhinos, by stopping illicit trade; ensuring sustainable legal trade; reducing demand for illegal products; and providing assistance and grants to other nations to develop local enforcement capabilities."

On the positive side, it’s good to see that the President’s FY19 budget proposal again recommends cutting federal subsidies for the USDA’s Wildlife Services program that uses tax dollars to carry out lethal predator control programs, despite the availability of more humane and potentially more effective alternatives. This reduction specifically includes a decrease of $56,343,000 for the Wildlife Damage Management program and a $35,775,000 cut for Wildlife Services’ Operational Activities. We hope the Administration will press Congress to follow through on this policy shift, and reduce this government subsidy for toxic poisons, steel-jawed leghold traps, aerial gunning, and other inhumane practices that kill predators and non-target species such as family pets.

While this budget document serves as a looking glass into the Administration’s priorities for FY19, Congress has the power of the purse. We will continue to work hard with our allies on Capitol Hill to ensure that animal welfare initiatives receive necessary funding and to fight harmful provisions to animals.

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.

Chewy2
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.

Libres_Law
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.

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