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Thursday, February 14, 2019

A budget deal has been reached, and it's good news for animals

After months of negotiations, and the longest shutdown in United States history, a deal has emerged for funding to cover all the remaining federal agencies whose Fiscal Year 2019 budgets have been in limbo. While the package has been agreed to by key House and Senate negotiators, it still has to clear some hurdles. We are hopeful that this turning point shows that Congress stands united, and that President Trump will sign the bill into law. Although earlier appropriations bills in the House and Senate contained worrisome provisions and excluded important protections for animals, we are happy to report that the final version has resolved many of those problems.

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Jennifer Kunz/Duchess Sanctuary

The Humane Society Legislative Fund worked with animal protection champions in both chambers and with other stakeholders to secure these key outcomes:

Maintaining the ban on horse slaughter: The bill prohibits government spending on horse slaughter inspections, which effectively bans horse slaughter in the United States for human consumption. This language has been in place in almost every year’s budget since 2005, and was initially secured in the FY19 Senate version of the bill.

Protecting wild horses and burros: The bill prevents the Bureau of Land Management and its contractors from sending wild horses and burros to slaughter, and from killing excess healthy horses and burros. In addition, the bill leaves out harmful language contained in the House version of the bill to launch a program of mass surgical sterilization—a procedure which research has yet to prove can be conducted humanely. The conferees have requested that the BLM provide them with an updated humane management plan within 180 days, and that the agency include in its fiscal year 2020 budget request an outline of its proposed strategy and the funding necessary for implementation.

Preserving ESA protections for gray wolves: The bill omits an assault on gray wolves contained in the original House version of the bill. If enacted, it would have directed the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to remove Endangered Species Act protections from wolves in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin, remove Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections from wolves in the entire contiguous 48 states, and barred judicial review of those actions and of the 2012 removal from the ESA of gray wolves in Wyoming.

Allowing grizzly bear recovery: The bill excludes a provision contained in the House version which strove to block funding for the reintroduction of grizzly bears to the North Cascades Ecosystem in Washington State. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Park Service released an environmental impact statement in 2015 to launch the reintroduction process, which former U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke endorsed in March 2018. Instead, the conferees have directed FWS and NPS to re-open the public comment period regarding the draft environmental impact statement with proposed alternatives for the restoration of grizzly bears to the North Cascades Ecosystem—and to work with ranchers, conservation groups, local governments, and other local partners to reduce conflicts between grizzly bears and livestock, drawing upon lessons learned with the Wolf Livestock Loss Demonstration Program to improve conservation outcomes while limiting effects to agricultural producers.

Oversight of farm animals used in research: In 2015, the New York Times brought to light terrible abuses of farm animals at a USDA Agricultural Research Service facility in Nebraska, the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center. Congress responded forcefully with directives to USDA to begin inspecting these facilities for animal welfare compliance and providing quarterly reports to the Appropriations Committees.This bill includes harsh criticism of USDA’s progress reports, noting that “ARS did not report a single specific negative finding by APHIS inspectors, despite the fact that numerous violations have been found involving the death of numerous animals and serious health issues of many more. The failure to report these problems to the Committees is unacceptable. The conferees direct ARS to submit a single report covering all violations found by APHIS to date and the specific actions taken to prevent them from recurring within 60 days of enactment.”

Animal testing alternatives: The omnibus sustains level funding of $21.41 million (rejecting a $4.2 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.

Class B random source dealers: The bill contains the same language as in the past few 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. Our colleagues at the Animal Welfare Institute have led this fight.

USDA data purge: Following bipartisan expressions of outrage, the House Committee Report (in a provision deemed adopted in the final package) directed the U.S. Department of Agriculture to restore inspection reports and enforcement records for horse shows, puppy mills, roadside zoos, laboratories, and other facilities which were purged from the agency’s website in February 2017.

Providing needed funding: The bill provides a $500,000 increase for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to enforce the Animal Welfare Act and a $500,000 boost in a veterinary services grant program. It sustains funding for other key accounts including enforcement of the Horse Protection Act, Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, and federal animal fighting law, as well as for programs to address the needs of animals in disasters, encourage veterinarians to locate in underserved areas, support the Marine Mammal Commission’s crucial work, and crack down on international wildlife trafficking.

The omnibus package is not perfect. For example, it renews a harmful provision that blocks the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating toxic lead content in ammunition and fishing tackle, which poisons and kills wildlife. But overall, the Humane Society Legislative Fund is very happy that Congress has taken a stand on so many important animal protection issues. We look forward to working with the 116th Congress to ensure these protections are maintained and to build on them with additional vital measures.

Thursday, February 07, 2019

Bill in Congress will require puppy mills, roadside zoos, and other businesses to have emergency plans to protect animals during disasters

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

Weather-related disasters such as floods and wildfires are occurring more frequently and with increasing intensity across the United States. While there is a federal law that requires state and local authorities to consider household pets and service animals in their disaster contingency plans, it doesn’t address hundreds of thousands of animals held in American businesses, institutions and enterprises, specifically those in puppy mills, research facilities, zoos, circuses and aquariums regulated under the Animal Welfare Act (AWA). A bipartisan bill introduced in Congress today will remedy that by requiring all such enterprises to create emergency response plans for the animals in their care, so that they are not simply abandoned when disaster strikes.

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JP Bonnelly/The HSUS

The Providing Emergency Plans for Animals at Risk of Emerging Disasters (PREPARED) Act, H.R. 1042, is championed by Reps. Dina Titus, D-Nev., and Peter King, R-N.Y. It would require facilities that are regulated under the AWA to submit annual plans to the U.S. Department of Agriculture that identify emergency situations, including natural disasters, power outages and animal escapes, and outline specific tasks to respond to these emergencies. Plans need to include instructions for evacuating the animals, shelter-in-place, provision of backup food and water, sanitation, ventilation, bedding and veterinary care.

In 2001, more than 34,400 animals, including 78 monkeys, 35 dogs and 300 rabbits, died when Tropical Storm Allison flooded the University of Texas Medical Center. That facility, located along one of Houston’s largest bayous, housed more than half of its research animals underground. Sadly, the same mistake was repeated when New York University began construction on a research building one year later and located the animals in the basement; thousands of mice drowned there from Hurricane Sandy’s storm surge in 2012.

In 2006, with our urging, Congress enacted the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards (PETS) Act, after an estimated 600,000 animals were abandoned during Hurricane Katrina. Some people refused to evacuate and lost their lives because they couldn’t bear to abandon their pets. The PETS Act required state and local authorities to take into account—and to plan for—the needs of individuals with household pets and service animals before, during and after a disaster, but it did not cover commercially owned animals.

The PREPARED Act would do more than simply benefit animals. It would also reduce the burden on first responders, the local community and nongovernmental entities involved with rescue efforts after a disaster. For example, in 2008, the Culpepper & Merriweather Circus in Kansas ignored four days of severe tornado warnings by the National Weather Service to keep two elephants outside, giving rides to the public. When a tornado hit, equipment fell on one of the animals. A handler was thrown from an elephant and injured, and the traumatized animals bolted and were loose for hours.

The 2014 Farm Bill directed the USDA to create an exemption from the AWA for people with only a few non-dangerous animals, noting that this would enable the agency to swiftly adopt a requirement for emergency contingency plans by AWA-regulated facilities. That exemption was finalized in June last year, so there is no reason for further delay on requiring the emergency plans.

We know firsthand the difficulties of providing care for thousands of animals after a significant disaster. Each year, the HSUS Animal Rescue Team spends hundreds of hours and hundreds of thousands of dollars to assist with rescuing and caring for animals during hurricane season and in the aftermath of other catastrophes, natural and manmade. The four animal care centers, operated by our affiliates the Fund for Animals and the South Florida Wildlife Center, all have disaster plans in place. The PREPARED Act is a win-win for everyone: by creating contingency plans for the animals in their care, businesses can safeguard their investments, reassure the public and other stakeholders that they are protecting the animals in their care, and prevent catastrophic outcomes for dependent animals. Congress should enact this commonsense reform quickly.

Kitty Block is President and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States and President of Humane Society International, the international affiliate of The HSUS.

Wednesday, February 06, 2019

Bipartisan bill in Congress will crack down on puppy mill cruelty

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

A bipartisan group of U.S. Representatives today introduced a bill to crack down on puppy mill cruelty by closing loopholes in the law that allow problem breeders with severe and multiple Animal Welfare Act violations to continue doing business as usual. The Welfare of Our Friends (WOOF) Act, reintroduced by U.S. Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., Charlie Crist, D-Fla., Glenn Thompson, R-Pa., and Jim McGovern, D-Mass, has the potential to improve the welfare of thousands of dogs and puppies bred and sold each year by federally licensed commercial breeders.

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Photo by Shutterstock

At present, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, tasked with licensing and inspecting certain businesses that use animals, routinely relicenses puppy breeders with dozens of severe violations on their records, including dead and dying animals who didn’t receive adequate veterinary care, underweight animals and animals kept in filthy and unsafe conditions. Problem dealers whose licenses have been suspended or revoked can also essentially obtain a new license under the name of a family member while owning the same animals on the same property.

For years, the Humane Society of the United States has exposed this disregard for the law and the need to close these loopholes in their annual Horrible Hundred reports on problem puppy mills in the United States, which is compiled from USDA and state inspection data. For instance, their researchers found that a breeding facility in Seneca, Kansas, has been operating for decades under the names of several different family members at the same location. Documented violations of the Animal Welfare Act at that facility included limping dogs, dogs with open wounds, underweight dogs with their backbones and hips protruding, and dogs found outside in the frigid cold without adequate protection from the weather.

We already know that allowing problem puppy mills to operate can have far-reaching and devastating consequences, not only for the animals but also for humans. In September 2018, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study linked a disease outbreak caused by an antibiotic resistant strain of campylobacter, a disease-causing bacterium, to numerous commercial dog breeding facilities. That outbreak led to 118 people in 18 states falling ill, including many who were hospitalized. The WOOF Act will help prevent such epidemics by requiring that a dealer pass inspection, which includes meeting veterinary care and sanitation rules, before the USDA issues or renews their license. It will also help protect families from unknowingly buying sick puppies.

Our nation has a puppy mill problem, and the Humane Society Legislative Fund and the Humane Society of the United States are working to bring high-volume puppy producers to heel. Our federal and state legislative and regulatory teams, attorneys, puppy mills campaign staff, investigative team, and our Animal Rescue Team attack this problem from every angle, whether it’s reaching consumers through education, working with pet supply stores, taking unscrupulous online puppy sellers to court, collaborating with responsible breeders and other stakeholders, helping pass state and federal laws and regulations, saving animals from terrible situations in puppy mills, conducting undercover investigations, or raising awareness about puppy mills through the annual Horrible Hundred report.

By stopping problem dealers, the WOOF Act will ensure that those who abuse animals do not get to profit by them. We thank Reps. Fitzpatrick, Crist, Thompson, and McGovern for introducing this important bill. When the WOOF Act was introduced late in the last Congress with similar language, it garnered 167 co-sponsors in the House, and we are extremely hopeful that support will further grow this year. You can help by contacting your U.S. Representative today. Ask them to cosponsor the WOOF Act and help end the scourge of puppy mills.

Kitty Block is President and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States and President of Humane Society International, the international affiliate of The HSUS.

Tuesday, February 05, 2019

The state of the animal union under the Trump administration

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

As President Donald Trump prepares to deliver his State of the Union address tonight, it’s a good time to take stock of how his administration has dealt with animal protection issues of interest to us at the Humane Society Legislative Fund and the Humane Society of the United States.

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Photo by RamiroMarquezPhotos/iStock.com

President Trump has expressed his personal distaste for trophy hunting—to his credit—but in the past two years, we have also seen aggressive moves by the Department of the Interior and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to undo years of work done by previous administrations to save wildlife at risk of extinction globally and in Alaska. Moreover, the government has made blatant handouts to trophy hunters. The animal protection field has also had to grapple with a U.S. Department of Agriculture blackout of important information that groups like ours and the American public rely upon to ensure animals are not suffering.

On balance, it would be fair to say that the impact of federal agencies over the past two years on animal protection has been more negative than positive. Some of the areas where we saw the Trump administration fail include:

  • The blackout of thousands of Animal Welfare Act and Horse Protection Act inspection and enforcement records from the U.S. Department of Agriculture website, making it harder for Americans to learn which puppy mills, roadside zoos, and research facilities, among other enterprises, are failing to comply with animal protection laws. The USDA has also cut back drastically on the number of warnings, official complaints, and license revocations it applies to the worst puppy mills and other Animal Welfare Act violators.
  • Former Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke illegally established the “International Wildlife Conservation Council,” an advisory panel stacked with people who have an interest in killing or importing rare and endangered animals from overseas. The administration also lifted the import ban on Zimbabwe elephant and lion trophies.
  • Last year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service proposed weakening the Endangered Species Act, creating additional roadblocks to securing comprehensive protections for threatened species, and to make the process of removing species from the ESA easier.
  • The Department of the Interior proposed rolling back an Obama-era regulation that banned some of the worst and most appalling hunting practices on 20 million acres of federal public lands in Alaska, including using artificial light to kill hibernating bears and their cubs, shooting wolf and coyote pups and mothers in their dens, using bait to attract brown and black bears, shooting vulnerable swimming caribou, and using dogs to hunt black bears. This, just after Congress revoked similar protections on 76 million acres of National Wildlife Refuge lands in Alaska in 2017.
  • The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed Yellowstone-area grizzly bears from the Endangered Species Act, and the Department of Justice committed funds for legal fights in the federal courts to make this administration action permanent.

We did see the Trump administration take some positive steps to help animals, including:

  • The National Park Service began work to augment the Isle Royale, Michigan, wolf population by introducing 20 to 30 wolves over a three-year period. New wolves will restore ecological balance to Isle Royale’s ecosystem.
  • The Food and Drug Administration pledged to conduct an independent, third-party investigation of the agency’s animal research programs, establishing a new Animal Welfare Council, and reaffirming its commitment to replacing, reducing, and refining animal studies by creating a road map with this focus.
  • The National Marine Fisheries Service designated critical habitat for the Main Hawaiian Islands insular false killer whale distinct population segment, although the area is smaller than many advocates had sought.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency released its strategic plan to promote the development and implementation of non-animal test methods.

We are also grateful that the USDA decided to abandon a proposal to outsource some inspections of puppy mills, roadside zoos and research laboratories to third-party inspectors. If implemented, the proposal would have essentially allowed these industries to police themselves and severely undermined protections for millions of animals.

As we look forward to 2019, we encourage the Trump administration to take necessary steps to prioritize transparency and to advance key animal welfare reforms, such as:

  • A proposed USDA rule to tighten licensing requirements for dog dealers and exhibitors, as well as strengthen requirements for dog dealers to provide basic care requirements.
  • A significant increase in the use of population growth suppression tools to manage wild horse and burro populations on our public rangelands. The Department of the Interior must also abandon past proposals to send wild horses and burros to slaughter.
  • Mitigating the harm being caused to the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale, including taking measures to reduce deadly entanglements in lobster gear and other trap/pot fisheries gear, and to reduce the risk of vessel strikes by imposing mandatory ship speed limits in additional areas of seasonal high use along the east coast.
  • Prioritizing the relocation of chimpanzees currently owned and supported by the federal government to the national sanctuary, Chimp Haven. The National Institutes of Health should also prioritize approaches to replacing animals in harmful research that not only represent the best available science, but could also prevent the suffering of millions of animals in laboratories each year.

Congress recently demonstrated that animal protection is a bipartisan value, with members from both sides of the aisle coming together to introduce bills to attack horse soring, horse slaughter, shark finning, and malicious animal cruelty. We hope that in the coming year, we will see more of an effort by the administration to work for, and not against, animals. Animal protection is an American value and most of us—Republicans and Democrats—do not want to see innocent creatures hurt or killed needlessly.

Kitty Block is President and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States and President of Humane Society International, the international affiliate of The HSUS.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Bipartisan bill introduced in Congress to end slaughter of American equines

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

The last horse slaughter plants in the United States closed years ago, and Congress has consistently voted to prohibit funding for horse slaughter inspections within U.S borders. Unfortunately, this does not prevent the inhumane transport of American equines to other countries. Each year, tens of thousands of our horses and burros are transported under terrible conditions to Canada and Mexico, where they meet a cruel end because there is no federal law stopping such transport across our borders.

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Jennifer Kunz/Duchess Sanctuary

The Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act introduced today by Reps. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., and Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., would change all that. Their measure proposes to end the transport of American horses, burros, and other equines abroad to be slaughtered for human consumption, and it would also ensure that horse slaughter plants on U.S. soil remain shuttered.

Horse slaughter is fundamentally cruel, from the way the animals are transported to the methods used to kill them. The horses and burros are shipped in overcrowded trucks for many hours, even days, without food, water, or rest. The animals are extremely stressed and they are frequently injured, or even killed, in transit.

Once at the slaughterhouse, they are shot with a captive bolt gun or rifle in an attempt to stun them before slaughter. Because of their skittishness and “fight or flight” response, it often takes repeated blows to render the horses unconscious and some are still awake during slaughter.

The suffering of the animals, while enough of a reason to stop this industry, is not the only problem. Horse meat is not safe for human consumption because American horses are not raised for food and are routinely given hundreds of drugs throughout their lives that can be toxic to humans. Some of these drugs are prohibited by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for use in animals intended for human consumption.

We thank Reps. Schakowsky and Buchanan for championing the SAFE Act, and urge other members of Congress to act promptly to ensure the bill is swiftly passed. We already know that this legislation enjoys wide support in the U.S. House of Representatives: the SAFE Act, H.R. 113, introduced in the last Congress with the same language as the bill introduced today, received broad bipartisan cosponsorship by 219 Representatives—a majority of the chamber.

Please contact your Representatives and tell them to cosponsor the SAFE Act. American equines are iconic animals and beloved companions, and protecting them from the horrors of transport, starvation, and slaughter is a responsibility we all share.

Kitty Block is President and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States and President of Humane Society International, the international affiliate of The HSUS.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Did your Members of Congress make the grade? The 2018 congressional year in review for animals

The final 2018 Humane Scorecard is now online, and we invite you to check it out and see how your federal legislators stood on a range of key issues last year. Please also share this scorecard with family, friends, and fellow advocates and help spread the word!

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iStock Photo

To recap, the 115th Congress second session had its share of frustrating setbacks, but the FY18 omnibus appropriations deal signed into law in March and the farm bill enacted in December contained some spectacular wins for animal protection. Here’s a snapshot of major actions in 2018:

Farm bill
Some of our biggest victories in this massive, multi-year package were defensive plays:

  • Most importantly, we blocked a terrible amendment by Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, that threatened to gut countless state and local laws on animal protection, food safety, and other agriculture-related concerns.
  • We also successfully countered amendments to eliminate the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) requirement for annual U.S. Department of Agriculture inspections at animal research laboratories and amendments to weaken Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections.

We secured three key pro-animal measures in the final package:

  • The Pet and Women Safety (PAWS) Act extends federal domestic violence protections to include pets and authorizes grant money to help domestic violence shelters and other entities arrange shelter for survivors with pets.
  • The Parity in Animal Cruelty Enforcement (PACE) Act clarifies that federal prohibitions on animal fighting apply in all U.S. jurisdictions, including territories where cockfighting is still openly practiced.
  • The Dog and Cat Meat Trade Prohibition Act prohibits the domestic slaughter, trade, and import/export of dogs and cats for human consumption, preventing an appalling trade from taking hold in the U.S. and strengthening our standing to end it worldwide.

Appropriations
The FY18 omnibus spending bill enacted in March contained many pro-animal items:

  • Equines: Renewed “defund” provision that effectively prevents horse slaughter plants from reopening on U.S. soil. Restated prohibition on sending wild horses or burros to slaughter for human consumption.
  • Wildlife: Struck riders that would have eliminated ESA protections (and barred judicial review) for gray wolves in Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. Eliminated rider allowing extreme methods of hunting on National Park Service lands in Alaska.
  • Animal welfare enforcement: Following requests by 184 representatives and 38 senators, provided a $2 million increase for AWA enforcement, added $1.5 million to a student loan repayment program that helps veterinarians work in underserved areas, and sustained funding in other animal welfare accounts. Also criticized the USDA for thwarting access to AWA and Horse Protection Act inspection reports and directed the agency to comply with earlier requirements “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.”
  • Research and testing: Maintained funding for the Environmental Protection Agency to develop replacements for animal tests and increased funding by $36 million for a National Institutes of Health program that helps transition science to non-animal test methods. Encouraged NIH to expedite retirement of chimpanzees in research facilities and to expand the national chimpanzee sanctuary system. Maintained prohibition on USDA licensing of “random source” dealers, who are notorious for acquiring dogs and cats through fraudulent means (including pet theft), keeping them in inhumane conditions and selling them for research.
  • Wounded warriors: Doubled funding (a $5 million increase) for Department of Defense grants to nonprofits providing therapeutic service dogs to veterans and active duty personnel suffering from physical injuries and emotional trauma, and boosted by $1 million a Veterans Affairs program providing equine therapy for veterans with mental health issues.

Some pro-animal FY19 budget provisions were enacted:

  • Provided a $105.4 million increase for the NIH program developing non-animal alternatives to animal tests.
  • Maintained $10 million for the Defense Department program that awards grants for therapy dogs, and increased by $500,000 the Veterans Affairs equine therapy program.

Other priorities in the FY19 budget await final resolution:

  • The horse slaughter defund provision is in the Senate bill but not the House bill.
  • Both the House and Senate bills include the prohibition on the slaughter of wild horses and burros for human consumption, but the House version also directs immediate initiation of a surgical sterilization program despite a lack of evidence that the method can be performed humanely or effectively.
  • The House bill contains terrible riders to undo ESA protections for gray wolves and block the reintroduction of grizzly bears in Washington State.

Additional victories

  • While the USDA budget isn’t finalized, the FY19 funding request letters (signed by a record 190 representatives and 38 senators) helped drive needed action: In May, the agency abandoned its proposal to outsource animal welfare oversight and give regulated industries (puppy mills, roadside zoos, research laboratories, etc.) the power to decide which facilities warrant federal inspections.
  • In September, the House passed a global resolution, H. Res. 401, urging all nations to prohibit and enforce laws to end the cruel dog and cat meat trade. (House resolutions don’t require Senate approval or presidential signature, so this measure is completed.)
  • The Welfare of Our Furry Friends (WOOFF) Act was signed into law in October as part of the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization. Introduced after a French bulldog died when an attendant insisted on stowing him in an overhead bin during a long flight, the WOOFF Act prohibits storage of live animals in airplane overhead compartments and authorizes civil penalties.
  • Several measures saw action in one chamber during the 115th Congress, setting the stage for future success. They included the Shark Fin Trade Elimination Act to prohibit sales of shark fins and the Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture (PACT) Act to prohibit acts of extreme cruelty in interstate or foreign commerce. The Horseracing Integrity Act (H.R. 2651), which aims to end widespread doping of race horses, had a House hearing in June (with testimony by the Humane Society of the United States), and in September the House approved the Rescuing Animals With Rewards (RAWR) Act (H.R. 6197) to crack down on international wildlife trafficking.

Setbacks
We did encounter some serious setbacks. Legislation to bring urgently needed changes to agriculture checkoff programs—so their funds are no longer misused to lobby against animal welfare reforms—failed in the Senate. A farm bill amendment to end the cruelty of horse “soring” was blocked from House floor consideration. Numerous animal protection bills, detailed in the 2018 Humane Scorecard, garnered hundreds of bipartisan co-sponsors but stalled because House and Senate leadership refused to call them up for a vote.

Looking ahead
The new Congress presents exciting opportunities to move reintroduced bills that are ripe for swift action. We hope to see significantly fewer anti-animal measures brought to the House floor, although we’ll likely need to respond to additional regulatory rollbacks against wildlife and other animals and to press for stronger agency enforcement and accountability. We’re eager to work on new priorities as well, such as disaster planning for animals at regulated facilities, as we face increasingly frequent and extreme weather events.

For all this and more, we’ll be counting on your continued help. You have been the key to our successes in 2018, and if you keep speaking out for the animals, we can accomplish even greater progress in the 116th Congress!

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Bipartisan bill introduced in Congress to end cruel horse soring

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

A strong team of bipartisan lawmakers has reintroduced a bill to end the cruel practice of “soring” Tennessee walking horses and related breeds, a core priority for us here at the Humane Society Legislative Fund and the Humane Society of the United States.

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Photo by the HSUS

The bill, introduced by Reps. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., Ted Yoho, R-Fla., Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., Ron Estes, R-Kan., Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., and Chris Collins, R-N.Y., is identical to the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act that attracted overwhelming bipartisan cosponsorship from 290 representatives and 46 senators in the last Congress. The only difference is the title—it’s now named the “U.S. Senator Joseph D. Tydings Memorial Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act” to honor the memory of the former senator from Maryland who introduced the original Horse Protection Act enacted in 1970 and championed efforts to crack down on this cruelty. Sen. Tydings worked tirelessly with us on the PAST Act until his death in October 2018, and securing its passage in 2019 will be a fitting tribute to this hero for the horses.

Soring is the practice of intentionally inflicting pain on the hooves and legs of performance walking horses—using caustic chemicals, chains, weighted shoes, hard objects, cutting, and other gruesome techniques—to force them to perform a pain-based artificially high-stepping gait known as the “Big Lick” and gain unfair competitive advantage at horse shows.

Congress hoped to end soring when it passed the Horse Protection Act nearly 50 years ago, but a 2010 audit by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Inspector General and undercover investigations by the HSUS in 2012 and 2015 at top Big Lick stables found that rampant soring persists within a subset of the walking horse industry. These scofflaws, who insist on having their horses perform this grotesque exaggerated gait instead of valuing the beauty of the animals’ natural gait, don’t speak for the whole industry. In fact, it’s estimated that only about 10 percent of all Tennessee Walking Horses are shown in the Big Lick classes. And thanks to increasing public awareness about the cruelty of soring, Big Lick shows are losing attendance as well as corporate and charitable sponsors, while the shows that feature these magnificent animals without subjecting them to painful manipulation are thriving. That’s as it should be.

H.R. 693 will amend the Horse Protection Act to eliminate the failed walking horse industry system of self-policing (i.e., the fox guarding the henhouse), and put the U.S. Department of Agriculture in charge of licensing, training, and oversight of all inspectors, as recommended by the Inspector General’s 2010 audit. It will also ban the use at horse shows of devices that are integral to the soring process, strengthen penalties for violations, and hold abusers accountable. And according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, the legislation will accomplish all of these needed reforms without any additional taxpayer burden.

The PAST Act enjoys broad support from a coalition of the nation’s leading horse industry, veterinary, law enforcement, and animal protection organizations, including the American Horse Council, U.S. Equestrian Federation and 67 other national and state horse groups, the American Veterinary Medical Association, the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association, the American Association of Equine Practitioners, state veterinary groups in all 50 states, the animal protection community, National Sheriffs' Association, Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, key individuals in the Tennessee Walking Horse show world, and major newspapers in Kentucky and Tennessee (the states where soring is most concentrated).

All reputable horse breed and show organizations endorsed the PAST Act. The only ones opposing this non-controversial legislation are those who are involved in this cruel practice and are profiting from it, and their handful of defenders in Congress.

We expect a Senate companion bill to be reintroduced soon by Sens. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, and Mark Warner, D-Va. Please contact your U.S. representative and two U.S. senators now at 202-224-3121 and urge them to cosponsor the PAST Act and do all they can to secure its swift passage.

Kitty Block is acting President and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States and President of Humane Society International, the international affiliate of The HSUS.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Bipartisan bills introduced in Congress to ban shark fin trade in U.S., end malicious cruelty to animals

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

The 116th Congress began work today on rooting out some of the worst forms of animal cruelty in the world, with House members reintroducing two important bipartisan bills. One would ban malicious acts of animal cruelty and bestiality, and the other would prohibit the destructive trade in shark fins within our borders.

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AwaylGl, iStock.com

These are issues most Americans can agree on, and both bills are long-running priorities for our Humane Society Legislative Fund staff. The Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture (PACT) Act, sponsored by Reps. Ted Deutch, D-Fla., and Vern Buchanan, R-Fla, would make the most malicious acts of animal cruelty—including crushing, burning, drowning, suffocating, and impaling animals and sexually exploiting them—felony crimes under federal law. And the Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act, introduced by Reps. Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan, D-Northern Mariana Islands, and Michael McCaul, R-Texas, would ban the shark fin trade across the United States, strengthening the moral claims of our nation as a leader on ending the worldwide trade in shark fins.

The Humane Society of the United States has successfully pushed for all 50 states to declare malicious acts of animal cruelty as felonies and in 2010, we helped pass a federal law, the Animal Crush Video Prohibition Act, banning the trade in so-called “crush videos”—obscene videos that show animals being subjected to terrible cruelty and suffering for the titillation of perverted viewers. But there’s a gap in the law that needs to be addressed. While those who engage in such extreme cruelty can be prosecuted by the states where they are caught, there is no recourse for federal prosecutors unless an obscene video has been produced. The PACT Act will criminalize malicious acts of animal cruelty whenever they occur on federal property or affect interstate commerce, such as when animals are moved across state lines.

The U.S. Senate has unanimously passed the PACT Act twice before, and it earned 284 bipartisan House cosponsors and over 200 law enforcement endorsements in the 115th Congress. The only reason this legislation has not passed the full House in past years is because it was repeatedly blocked from coming to the floor by former House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., who is no longer in Congress. With a new Judiciary committee chairman, Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., chances that the bill will finally become law this year are much brighter.

"This is commonsense, bipartisan legislation to bring some compassion to our animal laws," said Congressman Deutch. "For many Americans, animal welfare is an important policy issue, and the idea of animal abuse is abhorrent. By building on state and local laws, Congress should act to guarantee a level of protection for animals across the country by criminalizing these inhumane acts. We've acted in the past to stop the horrific trend of animal abuse videos; now it's time to make the underlying acts of cruelty a crime as well."

"The torture of innocent animals is abhorrent and should be punished to the fullest extent of the law," Buchanan said. "Protecting animals from cruelty is a top priority for me and I look forward to working with Congressman Deutch on this important issue."

"The PACT Act is crucial to the fight against animal cruelty. Combined with the recent passage of the PAWS Act and the FBI’s inclusion of animal cruelty within its National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS), this recent uptick in federal-level action in fighting animal cruelty in all its forms is indicative of the acceptance of the seriousness of animal cruelty. Research has repeatedly confirmed the link between animal cruelty and human violence, and the PACT Act will address some of the most egregious forms of cruelty," said Chelsea Rider, Director of the National Sheriff Association's National Law Enforcement Center on Animal Abuse.

The Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act will prohibit the import, export, possession, trade, and distribution of shark fins and products containing shark fins. If it passes, it would reinforce U.S. leadership in global shark conservation, strengthen the existing U.S. ban on shark finning, and take our nation out of the destructive global shark fin trade once and for all.

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Photo by Vanessa Mignon

Although most of the demand for shark fins is in Asia, the United States is an active participant in the trade. Government records show that in 2017 we imported shark products worth more than $1.6 million, with the majority of that value coming from fins. The United States also is an end market as well as a transit point for shark fins obtained in countries where finning is unregulated or where finning laws are not sufficiently enforced.

Shark finning is an extremely cruel practice: fishermen slice the fins off the sharks and dump them back into the ocean to drown, bleed to death, or be eaten alive by other fish. To meet the demand for shark fin soup, fins from as many as 73 million sharks are traded throughout the world every year. This commerce is unsustainable—some shark populations worldwide have declined by as much as 90 percent in recent decades, and the International Union for Conservation of Nature estimates that up to one-quarter of shark and ray species are at risk of extinction.

“The strong, bipartisan support for this legislation sends a clear message that we have to pay more attention to protecting the Earth’s oceans and the life within those oceans. Banning the sale of shark fins to help end this wasteful and cruel practice is important, but just a small step on the way to giving the oceans the full respect they must have in federal law. Ultimately, all life on Earth depends on the health of the oceans,” said Congressman Sablan.

“I am proud to help introduce the Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act, which builds upon existing federal law and state initiatives to ban the sale, purchase, or possession of shark fins in the United States. As the largest economy in the world, how we conduct our commerce has a profound impact on global markets and greatly influences others’ economic behavior. It is long since time we leverage our economic might against shark-finning and work to counter the larger issue of animal poaching and the illicit trafficking of animal parts,” said Congressman McCaul.

We are excited to see these bills move through Congress and finally pass into law this year, but we cannot do it without you. Please contact your Members of Congress and ask them to cosponsor the PACT Act the Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act. There is no place for animal cruelty in a civilized society, and it is time our laws catch up with the times.

Kitty Block is acting President and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States and President of Humane Society International, the international affiliate of The HSUS.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Steve King, down for the count?

Today, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution of disapproval concerning Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) for recent remarks in which he questioned the offensiveness of white supremacy and white nationalism. Yesterday, the House Republican Steering Committee unanimously voted to exclude Steve King from any positions on House committees in the new 116th Congress, kicking him off the Agriculture, Judiciary, and Small Business Committees. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) also issued a statement condemning King’s words.

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Larry French/AP Images for The HSUS

King’s comments to the New York Times are only the latest signals of his affinity for white nationalism. In 2017, King tweeted that America can’t restore “our civilization with somebody else’s babies.” Last year, King defended his meeting with  a far-right Austrian political party with ties to Nazism, while on a trip funded by a Holocaust memorial group, and retweeted a post from British author and self-professed Nazi sympathizer Mark Collett.

Stripped of his committee assignments, King’s effectiveness as a lawmaker will further shrink. Nowhere will this be more apparent than on the House Agriculture Committee where—attempting to shape policy for an industry central to his home state’s economy—King has launched many of his attacks against animal protection over the years.

These multiple condemnations directly threaten King’s political future. Last week, Iowa State Senator Randy Feenstra announced his intention to challenge King in the 2020 Republican primary, and Iowa’s Republican Governor, Kim Reynolds, stated that she will not support King in the race. King might not even make it to that election: Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), the 2012 Republican presidential candidate, and Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah) are among the Republicans who have already called for his resignation.  

The hatefulness implicit in King’s commentary concerning white nationalism spills over into his visceral opposition to animal protection. He has consistently made himself an outlier by fighting animal protection proposals of all kinds in Congress.

A prime example is King’s opposition to restricting animal fighting. Last May, King voted against an amendment to the Farm Bill, which sought to clarify that federal prohibitions on animal fighting apply in all U.S. jurisdictions, including U.S. territories. This amendment passed by an overwhelming bipartisan vote of 359-51 and was enacted in December. In 2007, he voted against the Animal Fighting Enforcement Prohibition Act, which strengthened penalties for illegal animal fighting and made it a felony to transport animals across state lines for the purpose of fighting. In 2013, King tried unsuccessfully to block legislation that made it a crime for an adult to attend or bring a child to a dogfight or cockfight.

King is also responsible for one of the worst threats to animal protection and most egregious power grabs in U.S. history. Thankfully, Congress rejected twice—in the 2014 and 2018 Farm Bills—the King amendment that threatened to nullify countless state and local laws regarding animals and a range of other concerns including food safety and the environment.  

As if this weren’t enough, King also has a history of voting against wildlife and equines. He has repeatedly voted to promote the slaughter of American horses for human consumption in foreign countries even though 80 percent of the U.S. public overwhelmingly opposes it. He’s voted for legislation that undermines the Endangered Species Act, removing critical protections for some of America’s most iconic and imperiled species, including grizzly bears and wolves. He also voted to restore extremely cruel and scientifically unjustified methods of trophy hunting on National Park and National Refuge lands in Alaska.

King’s great hostility toward our cause may stem from the same core lack of empathy and ethics that prompt him to embrace a racist ideology that has so bedeviled this nation throughout its history. For that and other reasons, we wholeheartedly applaud the Congress for its resounding rebuke of King’s bigotry and malice.

Thursday, January 03, 2019

116th Congress brings new hope, opportunities for animal protection

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

We are on Capitol Hill today for the swearing in of the 116th Congress, along with Humane Society of the United States and Humane Society Legislative Fund colleagues. We’re meeting with members of Congress, old and new, and gearing up for a new session of pushing for the passage of federal legislation to protect animals.

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iStock Photo

Toward the end of the 115th Congress in 2018, we achieved a great deal, including the passage of the Farm Bill without the harmful King amendment and with three pro-animal measures. Our priorities this year cover a wide range of issues, including banning the private possession of big cats, the prevention of basic animal cruelty, an end to the shark fin trade in the United States, a full ban on the cruel practice of horse soring, a prohibition on the slaughter of horses for human consumption and the elimination of animal testing for cosmetics.

While some fear a gridlock this year because of a divided Congress, we do not. People on both sides of the political aisle care about helping animals,  and we are extremely hopeful about getting a great deal accomplished for animals this year, just as we did in past years.

 Here are some key measures we’ll be working on:

THE PREVENTING ANIMAL CRUELTY AND TORTURE (PACT) ACT:

All 50 states have felony penalties for malicious cruelty to animals, and federal law bans the creation, sale and distribution of obscene videos that show live animals being crushed, burned, drowned, suffocated, impaled or subjected to other forms of heinous cruelty. PACT would strengthen that law by prohibiting extreme animal cruelty when it occurs in interstate or foreign commerce, regardless of whether a video is produced. It would complement state cruelty laws and provide an additional enforcement tool against extreme cruelty on federal property or in commerce. In the 115th Congress, PACT passed the Senate by unanimous consent and the House bill had 284 cosponsors.

THE BIG CAT PUBLIC SAFETY ACT:

Tigers, lions and other big cats are kept in private possession all across the country in people’s backyards, basements and at unaccredited roadside zoos. There is no uniform regulation regarding the keeping of big cats and the issue has been largely left to state governments to regulate. Just this past weekend, a young woman was attacked and killed by a lion at a privately run wild animal menagerie in North Carolina. This bill would create a national framework for the keeping of dangerous wild animals in private possession, and prohibit public contact with certain species. It would also end future ownership of big cats by unqualified individuals and contain exemptions for individuals meeting specific requirements.

THE SHARK FIN SALES ELIMINATION ACT / SHARK FIN TRADE ELIMINATION ACT:

The global demand for shark fins is causing a worldwide decline in sharks; some populations have dropped by as much as 90 percent. Congress can help stem this crisis by prohibiting the import, export, possession, trade and distribution of shark fins and products containing shark fins. Such action would strengthen the existing U.S. ban on shark finning—the cruel and wasteful practice of cutting the fins off a live shark, then discarding the mutilated animal to drown, bleed to death, or be eaten alive by other animals. It would also take our nation out of the destructive transnational shark fin trade, and reinforce U.S. leadership in global shark conservation.

THE PREVENT ALL SORING TACTICS (PAST) ACT:

Congress passed the Horse Protection Act almost 50 years ago to rein in the cruel practice of “soring," in which unscrupulous trainers deliberately inflict pain on the hooves and legs of Tennessee Walking Horses and related breeds. These trainers use caustic chemicals, chains, weights, sharp objects, cutting, and other gruesome techniques to produce an artificially high-stepping gait and gain unfair competitive advantage at horse shows. But rampant soring continues, as shown in a 2010 audit by the USDA Inspector General and by HSUS undercover investigations in 2011 and 2015. PAST would end the failed system of industry self-policing, ban the use of devices associated with soring, and strengthen penalties.

THE PUPPY PROTECTION ACT and WELFARE OF OUR FRIENDS (WOOF) ACT:

Most Americans consider pets family members, but under current federal standards, breeding dogs can spend their entire lives in small, cramped wire cages without ever touching the ground or having enough space to run and play. In addition, there are deficiencies in Animal Welfare Act enforcement of commercial breeding facilities, and the USDA often renews facilities’ licenses year after year despite severe and multiple violations. The Puppy Protection Act would improve weak and outdated standards of care and the WOOF Act would prohibit the issuance or renewal of a license to breeders whose previous licenses have been revoked or suspended, or to their immediate family members at the same address.

THE HUMANE COSMETICS ACT:

More than 1.7 billion consumers live in countries that have banned the manufacture and sale of cosmetics tested on animals, including European Union nations and India. These tests are not predictive of the human experience, are painful to animals, and are unnecessary – there are many alternative methods to ensure that products are safe for human use. Congress can help the United States remain a leader in the cosmetics industry by prohibiting the manufacture or sale of cosmetics tested on animals. The Humane Cosmetics Act would create a key incentive for cosmetics to be tested with cutting-edge technologies that are more humane, faster to perform and less costly to industry.

BANNING HORSE SLAUGHTER:

Horses have long been an integral part of American history, as loyal companions and comrades in battle, yet every year thousands are slaughtered for human consumption. Horses are shipped for long distances without food, water or rest in crowded trucks in which the animals are often seriously injured or killed in transit. At slaughter plants, the methods used rarely result in quick, painless deaths. Congress should keep horse slaughter plants shuttered in the United States by prohibiting the slaughter of horses here and end the export of horses for slaughter.

THE ANIMAL EMERGENCY PLANNING ACT:

Given the increasing frequency and intensity of weather-related emergencies, preparing for disaster includes having a plan in place to safely evacuate animals from affected areas. This bill would require that entities regulated under the Animal Welfare Act (such as commercial animal dealers, exhibitors, research facilities and animal carriers) have contingency plans in place to safely evacuate and care for animals in an emergency or disaster situation.

We’re proud of the difference that our organizations make, but the truth is that none of this can be done without your support. When you respond to our calls to action, when you take steps to engage others, and when you make calls to or email your members of Congress to support animal protection issues, you make a real difference for animals. In the New Year, we look forward to your continued support, and we look forward to working with you.

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Kitty Block is acting president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States

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