Commenting Guidelines

    • The HSLF invites comments—pro and con. Keep them clean. Keep them lively. Adhere to our guiding philosophy of non-violence. And please understand, this is not an open post. We publish samplers of comments to keep the conversation going. We correct misspellings and typos when we find them.

State Legislation

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.

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.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Animal welfare on the ballot in November

When voters go to the polls this November, they won’t only be making critical decisions about who represents them in the White House, Congress and state and local offices. In a number of states, the people will vote on the humane treatment of animals—deciding whether to adopt policies on factory farming, wildlife trafficking, and other animal protection issues.

Photo courtesy of Greg Latza/For The HSUS

Since the early 1990s, The Humane Society of the United States and allied organizations have been involved in about 50 statewide ballot contests, and voters have sided with animals about 70 percent of the time. They’ve banned cockfighting in three of the last states where it remained legal (Arizona, Missouri, and Oklahoma), set humane treatment standards for dogs in the largest puppy mill state (Missouri), stopped extreme confinement of animals on factory farms (Arizona, California, and Florida), and adopted new policies to restrict greyhound racing; horse slaughter; body-gripping traps and poisons; trophy hunting of bears, cougars, and wolves, and more. When politicians in the state legislatures have been held captive by special interests—such as big agribusiness, the trophy hunting lobby, or even organized cockfighting groups—animal advocates have petitioned to put these questions directly to the people.

This year in Massachusetts, voters will decide on Question 3, which would phase out the extreme confinement of veal calves, breeding pigs, and egg-laying hens in small crates and cages where they are virtually immobilized for their entire lives, and will remove inhumane and unsafe products from the Massachusetts marketplace. Backed by the MSPCA, Animal Rescue League of Boston, Zoo New England, and hundreds of Massachusetts veterinarians and family farmers, more than 170,000 Massachusetts voters signed petitions to place Question 3 on the ballot. Question 3 adds momentum to what’s already occurring in the marketplace, with McDonald’s, Walmart and 200 other major food retail brands pledging to change their procurement practices and source only cage-free eggs and meats.

In Oregon, voters will weigh in on Measure 100, which will help save endangered sea turtles, elephants, rhinos and other wild animals threatened with cruel poaching and extinction. Every day close to 100 elephants are brutally killed in Africa, their tusks hacked off to supply the black market for ivory trinkets. Poachers poison watering holes with cyanide, killing hundreds of elephants at once. Organized criminal gangs and armed rebels use military weapons to kill wildlife for the multi-billion dollar illegal wildlife trade. Measure 100 will ensure that Oregon does not provide a market for endangered species products resulting from wildlife poaching and trafficking. If passed, Oregon will join California, Washington, Hawaii, and other states in shutting down local markets for those who seek to profit from this destructive wildlife trade. 

In Oklahoma, family farmers and animal advocates are opposing State Question 777, a measure referred to the ballot by politicians to amend the state constitution with a so-called “right to farm.” It would protect corporate interests and foreign-owned big agribusiness at the expense of Oklahoma’s family farmers, land, and animals. The measure is so broadly worded that it could prevent future restrictions on any “agricultural” practice, including puppy mills, horse slaughter, and raising gamefowl for cockfighting. Even the president of the Oklahoma Farm Bureau said the language is flawed, and “I wish that language weren’t in there.”

Those aren’t the only states where voters will see ballot issues related to animals. Californians will vote on Proposition 67, to protect the state’s ban on plastic grocery bags, which wash into our rivers, lakes, streams, and ocean, where they are ingested by or entangle sea turtles, otters, seals, fish, and birds. Some ocean animals mistake bags for food, fill their stomachs with plastics, and die of starvation. Montanans will vote on I-777, which would restrict the use of cruel traps and snares on public lands. In Colorado, Amendment 71 would make it more difficult for citizens to have a say on future constitutional ballot measures, including those dealing with animal protection. The HSUS and HSLF favor the California and Montana measures, but strongly opposes the Colorado measure as an attack on citizen voting.

When you enter the voting booth or send in your mail ballot this November, make sure you don’t stop after the candidate races. Continue down the ballot and review the issues at stake, and you could have a role in promoting the humane treatment of animals and protecting these creatures from cruelty and suffering, and preserving your rights to participate in democratic decision-making in future elections.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Top 10 State Legislative Victories for Animals

As the year winds down to a close, I’m pleased to report that 159 new animal protection laws have been enacted this year at the state and local levels. That continues the surge in animal protection policymaking by state legislatures, and in total, it makes about 1,200 new policies in the states since 2005, across a broad range of subjects bearing upon the lives of pets, wildlife, animals in research and testing, and farm animals.

That is tremendous forward progress, closing the gaps in the legal framework for animals, and ushering in new standards in society for how animals are treated. I’d like to recap what I view as the top 10 state victories for animals in 2015.

Michelle Riley/The HSUS

Animal Fighting
We continued our successful campaign to fortify animal fighting statutes around the country, with Utah becoming the 42nd state to enact felony penalties for illegal cockfighting—further shrinking the number of states where cockfighting penalties are merely a slap on the wrist and the cost of doing business. After a multi-year battle in one of the toughest cockfighting states, the Tennessee legislature nearly unanimously increased penalties for attending an animal fight or bringing a child to an animal fight. And both Pennsylvania and Vermont closed a loophole in their laws by banning the possession of cockfighting weapons and paraphernalia such as the razor-sharp knives strapped to roosters’ legs.

Wildlife Trafficking
California closed a loophole in its longstanding ban on the trade in elephant ivory and also banned trade in rhino horns, helping to crack down on international wildlife traffickers and dry up the demand for illegal wildlife products in the U.S., the world’s second largest retail market for ivory after China. Washington state voters overwhelmingly passed an even more comprehensive wildlife trafficking initiative, banning the trade in the parts of ten imperiled species, including elephants, rhinos, lions, tigers, leopards, cheetahs, marine turtles, and pangolins; the ballot measure passed in all 39 counties and with more than 70 percent of the statewide vote. And we succeeded in stopping an attempt to repeal California’s longstanding ban on importing or selling kangaroo parts.


Puppy Mills
New Jersey and Virginia passed consumer protection laws that prohibit pet stores from selling puppies from some of the worst puppy mill operators in the United States. The new rules ban the sale of dogs from large-scale commercial dog breeders with severe Animal Welfare Act violations. The Virginia law also cracks down on the unregulated sale of dogs and cats at flea markets, parking lots and rest stops. Louisiana, Nebraska, and Pennsylvania also strengthened their statutes regulating puppy mills, and a number of cities and counties restricted the sale of puppy mills dogs.

Dogs in Research
California, Connecticut, and Nevada all passed legislation requiring that healthy dogs and cats used in laboratory experiments must be made available for adoption by rescue groups rather than euthanized.

Gas Chambers
North Carolina’s ban on the use of gas chambers to euthanize homeless dogs and cats in animal shelters took effect in 2015, and the Kansas legislature mandated that regulations banning the use of gas chambers be promulgated. At least ten chambers closed in 2015, many of them through the work of The HSUS and its volunteer advocates, including the last known operational chambers in Nevada, Michigan, and West Virginia. Since we began our campaign to end the use of gas chambers on dogs and cats in shelters across the United States back in 2013, more than two-thirds of the chambers in existence have been closed, and there are now only seven states with known chambers still in active use.

Shark Finning
Texas became the tenth state (along with three U.S. territories) to ban the trade in shark fins. These state laws help to dry up consumer demand and crack down on the brutal practice of hacking off the fins of sharks, often while they’re still alive, and throwing the mutilated animals back overboard to die slowly in the ocean—just for a bowl of soup.

Jennifer Kunz/The HSUS

Horse Tripping
Virginia passed legislation to ban a cruel rodeo event called horse tripping, which involves roping the front legs of a galloping horse, causing it to crash violently into the ground. Utah passed a law requiring the state agriculture department to educate the public about the hazards of horse tripping, and requiring that a report be filed with state officials whenever horse tripping occurs on publicly-owned facilities, such as county fairgrounds.

Captive Wildlife
With Nevada being one of only five states in the country with no restrictions on the private ownership of dangerous wild animals as pets, the state’s largest county—with two million residents, more than 70 percent of the state’s population—has taken action. Clark County now bans the possession of tigers, bears, chimpanzees, and other dangerous wild animals. We hope this sets the stage for a statewide policy regulating the reckless individuals who keep dangerous predators in their bedrooms and basements and threaten the safety of the animals as well as the community at large. Arizona also banned the private ownership of primates as pets, and the West Virginia legislature adopted implementing regulations to ban wild and dangerous animals as pets. The cities of Austin, Texas and Richmond, Virginia both passed ordinances banning the use of bullhooks on elephants.

Shaun Lowe/iStock

Large Carnivores
A number of western states took action to reduce or prevent the trophy hunting of cougars. South Dakota reduced “harvest limits” on the declining mountain lion population, Nebraska halted its plans for a mountain lion trophy hunt for 2016, and Colorado rejected proposals that would have killed up to 50 percent of mountain lions in certain areas of the state, and would have allowed electronic calls to be used by trophy hunters in order to lure in and shoot mountain lions at close range. We defeated bills in Oregon and Washington that would have resumed hound hunting of cougars, and Gov. Jay Inslee nixed a Washington plan that would have raised cougar hunting quotas by up to 100 percent in some areas. The California Fish and Game Commission voted to ban the trapping of bobcats statewide for their fur pelts.

California became the first state to crack down on the overuse of antibiotics to keep livestock in unsanitary, crowded conditions on factory farms. Unnecessary use of antibiotics has been linked to the development of antibiotic resistant infections, which affect at least 2 million Americans each year and cause at least 23,000 deaths. This legislation, backed by the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association, requires a veterinarian’s order for all antimicrobials sold over the counter for use in farm animals via the Veterinary Feed Directive.

Friday, July 24, 2015

How Safe Are You From an Escaped Pet Lion?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Anti-Horse Slaughter Bill Hits the Senate

Many animal protection issues and challenges are not resolved quickly—they involve long-term fights that take years. The slaughter of horses for human consumption is one such example.

We and our allies have been working to block horse slaughter plants from opening in the U.S.; to stop the long-distance transport of these companion animals in cramped cattle trucks, bound for a brutal slaughter in Canada and Mexico; and to close down export markets for horse meat in the E.U.


Our legislative adversaries, fearing to tread on this ground, don’t attempt to provide an outright defense of these extreme abuses of animals.

Instead, they try to cast this business—the business of slaughtering horses to profit from the animals’ exported meat—as some kind of altruistic act that helps the horses.

Today, a quartet of Democrat and Republican senators have introduced a bipartisan bill to end that cruel and archaic practice and put an end to the charade of its defense. In a recent blog, I wrote about the reintroduction of the Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act, H.R. 1942, in the House of Representatives.

This legislation would save horses from the cruelty of slaughter—a fate that is nothing short of a complete betrayal of an animal who has stood by us throughout history and is revered as a symbol of the American West.

Now U.S. Senators Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), and Susan Collins (R-ME) have introduced a companion bill in the Senate, S. 1214, to completely end the slaughter of American horses for human consumption. 

The effort to end horse slaughter has consistently garnered tremendous support with both the public and lawmakers. Polling shows that 80 percent of Americans oppose horse slaughter, and when horse slaughter plants attempted to reopen on U.S. soil in 2013, the public fought back. We don’t slaughter dogs and cats to ship their meat to other countries, and we’ll never accept the idea of slaughtering our horses so they can end up on a foreign dinner plate.

The horse slaughter industry and their financial backers should see the writing on the wall and recognize that they are swimming against the tide of public opinion.

Congress has spoken on this issue as well. For the past two fiscal years, it has rightfully prevented the use of tax dollars for horse slaughter inspections, effectively preventing horse slaughter plants from opening here. And when the House version of the SAFE Act was introduced last month, it gained 71 cosponsors within the first week and a half after the bill was introduced.

Now we have a bipartisan group of leaders in the Senate coming together to put the final nail in the coffin and end horse slaughter for human consumption, once and for all.

In 2012, New Jersey became the most recent state to ban horse slaughter for human consumption. Senator Menendez, the senior senator from the Garden State, has been a strong proponent of animal protection and has championed reforms to protect horses from horrific abuses such as slaughter, inhumane transport, and soring.

Senators Graham, Mikulski, and Collins have also been strong voices for humane values, and—as Senate Appropriations Committee senior members—are well placed to help horses. They will be at the forefront of efforts to make sure that the language preventing the funding of horse slaughter inspections is retained yet again so that no horse slaughter plants can open here while the SAFE Act is pending.

The horse slaughter industry is a predatory, inhumane enterprise. It doesn’t “euthanize” old horses but precisely the opposite: scurrilous players buy up young and healthy horses, often by misrepresenting their intentions, and kill them to sell the meat to Europe and Japan.

It’s time for Congress to pass the SAFE Act and end horse slaughter for human consumption for good. Please take action today, and ask your U.S. Senators and U.S. Representative to cosponsor the SAFE Act.

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

States Make Progress on Animal Fighting, Puppy Mills, and More

There’s been a lot of action on animal protection policies in state legislatures so far this year, just a few months into 2015. Some major priority bills have been enacted to help crack down on cockfighting, puppy mills, and other large-scale cruelties. Other major issues are on the move, and have cleared key legislative hurdles. We’ve also garnered some key vetoes of bills inimical to animal protection. Here are a few brief dispatches on the progress for animals—and some roadblocks—in the states so far in 2015.

Animal Fighting: Utah became the 42nd state to establish felony-level penalties for cockfighting, and Tennessee capped a seven-year campaign to fortify the state’s anti-cockfighting statute and make it a crime to attend or bring a child to an animal fight. Anti-cockfighting bills are still pending in Ohio and South Carolina. Shamefully, Montana lawmakers voted down a bill to ban attendance at dogfights—retaining their status as the only state in the nation to have such a loophole.

Ivory: The Oregon Senate voted to ban the trade in elephant ivory and rhino horn in the state, and a similar bill advanced in California through the Committee on Water, Parks and Wildlife. A coalition led by Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen, and supported by The HSUS and HSLF, launched a ballot initiative in Washington to ban the trafficking in rare species. If these measures are enacted, the west coast will join New York and New Jersey in cutting off the demand for elephant and rhino poaching.

Virginia became the third state to restrict sources of pet-store puppies. Photo by Chris Keane/AP Images for The HSUS

Puppy Mills: Virginia strengthened its anti-puppy mill law, by prohibiting pet stores from acquiring dogs from commercial breeders with the worst violations of the Animal Welfare Act, and cracking down on unregulated sales of dogs and cats at flea markets, parking lots, and rest stops. It’s the third state to restrict sources of pet-store puppies, and the fifth to address unregulated outdoor sales, helping to drive the market toward responsible breeders and shelters and rescue groups.

Sharks: The Texas House passed a bill to ban the trade in shark fins and to help combat the brutal finning of sharks left to die slowly in the oceans. If enacted, Texas would join nine other states and three U.S. territories with similar policies to crack down on the killing of 26 to 73 million sharks each year, just for a bowl of soup.

Greyhounds: Unfortunately, the Florida legislature adjourned without finalizing a major gambling bill, which would have repealed the state’s mandate that tracks hold live dog racing. Florida is one of the last states in the nation to legally force business owners to hold dog races, resulting in hundreds of injuries to dogs each year.

Gas Chambers: The Kansas House passed a bill to ban the use of carbon monoxide gas chambers to euthanize dogs and cats at shelters, but the language was modified in a conference committee to require that the Department of Agriculture update euthanasia standards by the end of the year. The HSUS will follow this process closely to ensure that it results in a ban on gas chambers, and will continue working with shelters in the remaining gas chamber states to transition them away from this outdated killing practice. In South Carolina, a bill banning gas chambers has passed the House and is currently awaiting a hearing in the Senate.

Ag-Gag: Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey vetoed a misguided and dangerous bill that would have hindered whistleblowing investigations into animal abuse on factory farms and bifurcated the state’s anti-cruelty statute—creating one set of rules for companion animals and another, weaker, one for farm animals and horses—after hearing from thousands of constituents who opposed this power grab by Big Ag. We are working to fight pending “ag-gag” legislation which seeks to stop whistleblowers and journalists from exposing abuses on factory farms in a number of states.

The North Carolina House passed a bill that would ban the most dangerous wild animals from being kept as pets.Photo by Kathy Milani/The HSUS

Captive Wildlife: West Virginia passed a follow-up bill to last year’s law on dangerous wild animals as pets, ensuring that the private ownership of lions, tigers, bears, apes, monkeys, and other species will be prohibited in the state. And the North Carolina House passed a bill that would also ban the most dangerous wild animals from being kept as pets. These are two of the handful of remaining states with little to no restrictions on the keeping of dangerous wildlife. Also, a bill advanced in California through the Senate Committee on Public Safety to ban the use of bullhooks on elephants.

Unsporting Hunting Methods: The Indiana Senate voted down a bill that would have legalized captive hunting of deer, elk, and other cervids trapped behind fences—an unsporting and inhumane practice that also spreads deadly diseases to native wildlife and livestock. The Colorado, Oregon, and Washington legislatures all rejected attempts by trophy-hunting groups to repeal portions of citizen-passed ballot measures that prohibit the baiting and hounding of bears or cougars. Montana Gov. Steve Bullock vetoed a bill yesterday that would have dramatically liberalized the use of steel-jawed leghold traps and other body-gripping traps in the state.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

See No Evil: Dogfighting Spectator Law Already Making a Difference

I’m pleased to report that the Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act, which we worked with Congress to enact last year, is now having a tangible impact in the field and helping to crack down on the entire cast of characters involved in animal fighting. This week, eight people were convicted under federal law for attending a dogfight in Akron, Ohio.


Last November, police raided what the Cleveland Plain Dealer called a nationwide dogfighting ring. Forty-seven people were arrested. Ten were charged in federal court, and the rest are being prosecuted in state court.

The spectators who had crossed state lines to attend the match were charged federally, along with the two chief organizers of the fights that were held that night.

Eight dogs were seized in the raid, including two who were already bloodied and were fighting in a 16-by-16-foot pit when law enforcement descended on the property.

Animal fighting routinely goes hand in hand with other crimes, and this was no exception. Narcotics and $52,000 in gambling cash were confiscated. One convicted felon was charged with being in possession of a firearm.This was a highly organized operation, and fight organizers even sold concessions and dogfighting paraphernalia to attendees.

These latest convictions show that while much of our work involves passing laws to protect animals, it’s equally important that those laws be properly enforced. Thanks to the Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act, it’s now a federal crime to attend or bring a child to an animal fight.

This was the fourth upgrade of the federal animal fighting statute since 2002, as we’ve worked to close gaps in the legal framework and strengthen the penalties for dogfights and cockfights.

With the FBI now tracking animal cruelty crimes in the Uniform Crime Reporting database, and agencies like the National Sheriffs’ Association speaking out forcefully against animal cruelty, we should see more enforcement of all animal cruelty laws. Animal fighting crimes are particularly well suited for federal prosecution because animal fighting almost always involves interstate activity.

In another high-profile example, federal investigators closed down a major cockfighting pit in Pikeville, Kentucky, last year and found that participants in that operation came from dozens of states.

Those out of state attendees even included members of organized criminal gangs like the Mexican Mafia. The evidence is clear. Animal fighting is a lose-lose endeavor for the animals as well as for the communities where the crimes are staged.

It also demonstrates why strong federal and state laws are both needed and complementary in the effort to crack down on animal fighting. Sometimes the fights are multi-state and multi-jurisdictional, and participants might be charged under federal law, or state law, or both. We are grateful to the lawmakers who helped shepherd through this new spectator animal fighting provision in the last Congress, thus providing one more important tool for law enforcement.

Of course, much more needs to be done across the country. The Tennessee House of Representatives may vote this week on a bill that would strengthen the state’s animal fighting law. The Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission has written to every member of the Tennessee House, urging them to support efforts to stiffen the penalties for animal fighting.

It’s far too early to declare victory over dogfighting and cockfighting. Some states maintain absurdly low penalties for cockfighting. And dogfighting is still pervasive in some quarters—just two weeks ago Montana lawmakers rejected an effort to criminalize being a spectator at a dogfight.

But we can take heart in the fact that animal fighting laws are getting tougher, law enforcement is paying attention, and a growing chorus of voices is saying that this cruelty must end.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Montana: The Nation’s Safe Haven for Dogfighting Boosters

In 49 states all across America, it’s a crime to attend a dogfight. Our federal law also includes penalties for spectators who finance dogfights with their gambling wagers and admission fees.

There is a consensus in our country that animal fighting statutes should punish the entire cast of characters involved in the criminal enterprise, including the spectators who make it profitable.

Frank Loftus/The HSUS

Which state is the one outlier? Montana. The Big Sky State is now the Big Dogfighting Spectator State.

Lawmakers there had an opportunity to close the dogfighting spectator loophole this year and bring Montana’s animal fighting laws into line with those of the rest of the nation.

The bipartisan legislation had passed the House by a vote of 74 to 25, but it failed yesterday—20 to 27—when the Senate took up the issue.

It’s shameful that 27 senators and 25 representatives voted to give dogfighting participants carte blanche.

They sided with criminals and with the nation’s most despicable form of cruelty.

Some of the opponents of this legislation raised the specter that penalties for dogfighting spectators could magically mutate into penalties for people who attend rodeos. Never mind that every other state in the West, where rodeo is popular, punishes people who attend dogfights. 

Most of them—like Colorado, Nevada, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming—have penalties for cockfighting spectators, too. None of those state laws have ever impacted rodeo, or anything other than illegal animal fights. Their argument is worse than folly.

The Billings Gazette was one of many papers that had demanded that legislators act and eliminate the state’s outlier status on this issue: 

Being a spectator at a dogfight also is illegal in 49 states. Montana is the only state that has failed to close this loophole that allows people to profit from horrendous violence against dogs…

The present statute already makes clear that “causing animals to fight” doesn’t include accepted husbandry practices in raising livestock or poultry, normal rodeo events or hunting.

Spectators provide much of the profit associated with dogfighting. The money generated by admission fees and gambling helps keep this “sport” alive. Because dogfights are illegal and therefore not widely publicized, spectators do not merely happen upon a fight; they seek it out. They are willing participants who support a criminal activity through their paid admission and attendance.

“If you don’t have a penalty for being a spectator, everyone becomes a spectator,” said the bill sponsor, Rep. Tom Richmond, R-Billings. “It’s like a kegger where everyone scatters.”

If you live in Montana, see how your senators and representatives voted on the bill. If they voted “yea,” they were on the side of cracking down on dogfighting and rooting this vicious cruelty out from our communities. If they voted “nay,” they sided with criminal dogfighters, and the bloodthirsty degenerates who enjoy watching these helpless animals forced into a pit to fight each other and slowly die of their injuries.

These legislators gave dogfighting enthusiasts a free pass, and they shouldn’t get a free pass from their constituents. 

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Animal Fighting Suffers a Knockdown

It’s been a big week in our major campaign to crack down on the brutal bloodsport of animal fighting.

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert signed a bill into law on Monday establishing felony penalties for repeat cockfighting offenders. Utah was previously the only state in the west without a felony cockfighting law, making it a magnet for animal fighters seeking to escape tougher punishment in neighboring states. Similar bills to fortify the law were blocked in the legislature for the past two years, but now Utah is the 42nd state with a felony cockfighting law.


In Tennessee—one of only eight remaining states where cockfighting is a misdemeanor, and in the heart of the “cockfighting corridor”—the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee yesterday passed a bill to strengthen the penalties for attending or bringing a child to an animal fight.

The legislation had previously passed the state Senate by a landslide vote of 24 to 1, and we are urging the full House to approve it swiftly.

Over the weekend, The Humane Society of the United States assisted law enforcement in Marlboro County, South Carolina, in breaking up an active cockfight, resulting in the arrest of 27 suspected cockfighters and the rescue of 122 gamefowl and one emaciated pit bull with 10 puppies. Remarkably, the mother dog, Nina Louise, had been stolen from her home more than a year ago and was reunited with her owner, who had seen the news coverage of the cockfighting bust.

The Post and Courier in Charleston in an editorial yesterday called on South Carolina lawmakers to get tougher on cockfighting, quoting Marlboro County Sheriff Fred Knight: “The fights themselves are inhumane for the animals involved, but so many crimes come about at these events.” The paper reported that three children were present at the Marlboro raid.

Legislation advanced in the Montana Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday to close the loophole that made that state the last one in the Union where it’s legal to attend a dogfight. It had previously passed the House by a vote of 74 to 25.

We are very close to having a national policy whose purpose, as the Billings Gazette wrote in an editorial, “is to discourage animal fights, and to ensure that, if fights are held, the instigators will be held accountable.”

These are long-term battles, and we are marching state by state to close the gaps in the legal framework on animal fighting. Other state legislatures in Colorado, Pennsylvania, and Vermont are working to fortify their already strong animal fighting statutes this year.

In the mid-1980s, only a dozen states had felony dogfighting statutes and a half dozen still permitted legal cockfighting. Our movement lobbied state legislatures, and passed ballot measures against cockfighting in Arizona, Missouri, and Oklahoma, to make cockfighting illegal in every state and dogfighting a felony in every state.

We also worked with the U.S. Congress to upgrade the federal animal fighting statute four times in the last 12 years, making it a federal felony to fight animals, possess them for fighting, or to bring a child to an animal fighting spectacle.

There is a growing consensus in society that it’s wrong to force two animals into a pit to fight to the death, often pumped full of drugs to heighten their aggression, and with razor-sharp knives and weapons strapped to their legs, just to place gambling bets and entertain people who are titillated by the violence and bloodletting.

Even Matt Bevin, who as a U.S. Senate candidate last year spoke at a rally to legalize cockfighting in Kentucky, now says that cockfighting should be a felony in the state. These political changes are bringing us closer to eradicating dogfighting and cockfighting in the U.S., a day that cannot come soon enough.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Arizonans Rally to Keep Cruelty Code Intact

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey exercised his first veto in office last night, and with a stroke of his pen, he nixed a misguided and dangerous bill that would have bifurcated the state’s anti-cruelty statute—creating one set of rules for companion animals and another, weaker, one for farm animals and horses.


As I wrote last week, this power grab by Big Ag also would have taken away local control from municipalities and badly complicated efforts by whistleblowers to expose abuse on factory farms.

Gov. Ducey’s powerful veto message underscores the public concern for animal cruelty and the importance of including all animals in our social values and legal framework.

He wrote:

I know we all agree that animal cruelty is inexcusable, unacceptable and absolutely will not be tolerated in the state of Arizona. No animal should be the victim of abuse. Moreover, perpetrators must be held to account and properly penalized to the fullest extent of the law.

While the sponsors and supporters of this bill are well-intentioned, when changing state laws relating to the safety and well-being of animals, we must ensure that all animals are protected, and mindful that increasing protections for one class of animals does not inadvertently undercut protections for another.

The Humane Society Legislative Fund had endorsed Ducey in the Republican primary race, largely because of his positive statements and pledges on animal welfare and enforcement.

He published a policy statement during the campaign noting, “I do not support exemptions in our anti-cruelty codes for any class of domesticated animals. No animal should be the victim of unspeakable cruelty.”

Here’s a politician who stood by his campaign promises—taking on Big Ag with his action.The Arizona legislature’s sop to the factory farming industry, carving out exemptions for some classes of animals, was in direct contradiction to the governor’s position statement.

We are extremely grateful to Gov. Ducey for standing firm on this issue and ensuring that all animals, including those raised for food, continue to be afforded legal protections in the Grand Canyon State.

It’s also a testament to the importance of citizen action and constituent communications. Arizona Republic political reporter Yvonne Wingett Sanchez tweeted last night:

.@dougducey's office received 19,251 constituent contacts on animal cruelty bill. Of those 19,248 were against it; three were supportive.

That’s an incredible outpouring from citizens who care about the humane treatment of animals. Your calls, letters, and emails do make a difference.

It’s a big public policy win for animals in Arizona, but in the broader sense, it illustrates the importance of animal advocates being involved in the political process, taking action as citizen lobbyists, and organizing a grassroots political force at the local, state, and federal levels.

Get Political
for Animals

Powered by TypePad