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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

A Paw-fficer and a Gentleman

A little language in a big bill can go a long way for animals. Some of the most meaningful victories for animals in Congress can stem from sometimes obscure pieces of legislation tucked into massive “must pass” bills, often with little fanfare.

This year’s Farm Bill included provisions on animal fighting, puppy mill imports, and tougher penalties for violating the Animal Welfare Act. The most recent Omnibus Appropriations Bill addressed a range of subjects including horse slaughter, de-clawing of cats in federal housing, trophy hunting of wildlife in foreign countries, developing alternatives to animal testing, and humane slaughter of poultry.

Wardog And now, the $600 billion Defense Authorization Act, which has yet to pass Congress, could provide assistance to the dog and cat companions of men and women in the armed forces. Provisions in both the House and Senate versions of the bill would cover the costs of relocating pets if a military family is ordered to evacuate an overseas duty station. It’s a step forward to help keep people and pets together in times of uncertainty, and it’s a celebration of the animals who provide companionship to our soldiers and comfort to their families.

The intersection of animals and the military has had its ups and downs. A Marine was videotaped tossing a squealing puppy over a cliff in Iraq. Army personnel shot live pigs so their soldiers could get surgical training by treating these intentionally inflicted wounds. The Department of Defense has failed to address important animal welfare policies concerning animal control in conflict zones, pet keeping by soldiers, and the punishment of cruelty to animals under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

But there has been plenty of heartwarming news, too. Jay Kopelman, a retired Marine lieutenant colonel, tells the story of rescuing an orphaned dog, Lava, from an abandoned house in Fallujah, Iraq. And U.S. Congressmen Paul Hodes (D-N.H.) and Walter Jones, Jr. (R-N.C.) both helped military families adopt the dogs who had befriended their slain loved ones overseas.

In the military, as in the rest of society, our relationship with animals is an exercise in contradictions. There is a deep bond between soldiers and pets, and a broad-minded concern for abandoned and orphaned animals in war zones. But there are institutional policies that fail to reflect that concern, and individual acts of cruelty that break the bond between people and animals.

By including the provision to help military pets in the Defense Authorization Act, Congress and President Bush can send a strong message that military institutions must recognize the importance of animals in our lives—and the joy and enrichment that animals bring to the men and women serving our country at home and abroad.

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