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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Honoring Our Leaders

Last week, as members of Congress and their staff worked to take care of business before leaving town for the spring recess, Capitol Hill was buzzing with recognition for lawmakers who also take care of animals. The Humane Society of the United States and the Humane Society Legislative Fund held two awards receptions in the U.S. Capitol, honoring members of Congress who have been leaders in the cause of animal protection.

HSLF President Michael Markarian with Sen. Mary
Landrieu (D-La.), the prime sponsor of legislation to stop
horse slaughter for human consumption.

The HSUS and HSLF jointly gave their top annual honor, the 2007 Humane Legislator of the Year Award, to Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.). Blumenauer was the co-author of the Animal Fighting Prohibition Enforcement Act, which was signed into law in 2007 and strengthen the federal penalties for dogfighting and cockfighting. He is also leading efforts to secure more funding for the enforcement of animal welfare laws and to establish charitable pet trusts for the lifetime care of companion animals. And he will be the keynote speaker at this year’s Taking Action for Animals conference in Washington, D.C.

In addition to Blumenauer, we honored 131 other members of Congress who were the prime sponsors of animal protection legislation or who scored a perfect 100 percent on the 2007 Humane Scorecard. My colleagues and I were joined by dozens of lawmakers who found time to stop by an evening reception in the U.S. Capitol Building to accept their awards and visit with HSUS and HSLF staff. The honorees—31 Senators and 100 Representatives covering 38 states—make up nearly one third of the Senate and one quarter of the House.

HSLF Political Director Richard Patch with Rep. Walter
Jones, Jr. (R-N.C.), who successfully pushed for the
establishment of a National War Dog Memorial.

Finally, The HSUS bestowed its highest award, the Joseph Wood Krutch Medal, on Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.V.) and posthumously on Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.). In surveying the field of people in political life, no one could deserve a lifetime achievement award for animal protection more than these two individuals. Byrd and Lantos were the 40th and 41st recipients of the prestigious honor, and the first legislators ever to receive it. Previous recipients have included such luminaries as Dian Fossey, Jane Goodall, and Richard Leakey.

Sen. Byrd is the longest serving member of the U.S. Senate, but he is also the only current member of the Senate who was in office when Congress voted on the Humane Slaughter Act of 1958. He is still fighting for that cause a half century later, and as the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, he has allocated millions of dollars to improve the enforcement of animal welfare and humane slaughter laws. He is a leader in the fight to stop horse slaughter and to promote the adoption of working horses, and he frequently uses his remarkable oratory skills on the Senate floor to praise his dogs, condemn dogfighting, or raise awareness of the inhumane slaughter of poultry.

Krutch Ceremony
HSUS President and CEO Wayne Pacelle presents the
Krutch Medal to Dr. Katrina Swett, the daughter of Rep.
Lantos, and Joe Stewart, former Secretary of the Senate
and longtime friend of Sen. Byrd.

Rep. Lantos, until his death last month, was also a lifetime leader for animals. He founded the Congressional Friends of Animals Caucus, holding briefings to inform members of Congress and their staff about dogfighting, farm animal welfare, and other important issues. He led the successful passage of animal protection measures, most recently the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards (PETS) Act to require disaster planning for pets in 2006, and a House resolution condemning the Canadian seal hunt in 2007. As the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, he was an ambassador for humane treatment around the globe, and used his voice to advocate for animal protection in other countries, such as calling on China to stop its misguided policy of rounding up and killing pet dogs.

Every year, more and more legislators of every political stripe are leading and supporting efforts to implement humane public policies. Animal protection is more than ever being treated like the serious moral issue it is on Capitol Hill, and lawmakers are debating policies that have enormous implications for animals. We congratulate this year’s award recipients, and thank them for speaking out and fighting for the creatures who need our help.

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