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August 2009

Monday, August 31, 2009

Send Us Your Bill

How many times have you heard about a cruel or abusive practice involving animals, and wondered, “How can that be legal? Isn’t there a law against that?”

Now, the Humane Society Legislative Fund has an opportunity for you to take your idea and help shape future public policy reforms for animals. HSLF has launched its first-ever “There Oughta Be a Law” contest, and we're asking animal lovers like you to submit your concept for a federal animal protection bill.

Every good law starts as an idea, and people who care about animals know first-hand the problems and challenges they face. Many lawmakers run similar contests each year and some great new laws have bubbled up through that process.

Some of the most significant animal protection laws, too, have been the result of compelling personal Enter the Contest stories. In 1966, after America learned the fate of a female Dalmatian named Pepper who was stolen from a farm in Pennsylvania and sold to a research facility in the Bronx, Congress passed the federal Laboratory Animal Welfare Act. And in 2008, 11-year-old Haley Ham led the charge to pass “Haley's Law” in Tennessee, requiring the addition of a bittering agent to antifreeze and engine coolant, after her own beloved dogs, Jessie and Sam, were killed by the sweet-tasting liquid.

As a citizen, you have the power to influence your elected officials, and you can participate by submitting your ideait could become the next federal bill to help animals around the country. We've already received more than 1,200 entries, demonstrating a surge of interest in lawmaking to protect animals, and I hope you'll add yours to the mix.

The winning entry will be selected by a panel of judges including legislators and lobbyists, and will be announced at our next Party Animals event on October 25th. The winner will receive an exciting two-day trip to the nation’s capital that will include a meeting with me and the rest of the HSLF staff to discuss his or her proposed bill, a visit to Capitol Hill to lobby federal lawmakers and congressional staff with us, a special feature in an upcoming edition of our bimonthly newsletter “Humane Activist,” and an opportunity to see the sights of Washington, D.C.

And if you haven’t participated in Party Animals before, it’s another great way to get involved, bringing people together on one night at the same time for a party with a purpose. Using tools provided by HSLF, party hosts create their own website, establish a fundraising goal, send invitations to friends and family, and collect donations through a secure online server. It’s fun and easy and it brings people together to stand up for animals. To join the fun, let us know if you’re interested in hosting a Party Animals house party.

The core principle of democracy is a belief in the wisdom of the people. I can’t wait to see the ideas that your wisdom will bring, and I look forward to the new animal protection policies that will be generated by animal advocates around the country. The contest ends at midnight on October 5thsubmit your idea today!

Friday, August 28, 2009

107 and Counting

When Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell signed a bill yesterday—surrounded by dogs and dog lovers—to curb some of the worst puppy mill abuses, he knew he was taking a major step forward for man’s best friend. What he probably didn’t know was that his humane action was part of a record-breaking year for animal protection lawmaking all across the country—with HSUS and HSLF doing heavy lifting from coast to coast.

State legislatures have already passed 107 new animal
protection laws in 2009.

The Pennsylvania bill to prohibit large-scale puppy mill operators from crudely performing certain surgeries on dogs without anesthesia—such as ear cropping, tail docking, debarking, and Caesarean births—was the 107th new animal protection law passed by state legislatures in 2009. It helped to shatter last year’s record of 93 new laws in the states, and with major states like California, Michigan, New Jersey, and New York still in session and several animal protection bills on the march through the legislative process, that total number keeps growing.

The pace of animal protection lawmaking in the states, in fact, has been on a steady climb for years. From 2001 to 2008, there were 563 new animal protection laws enacted. With this year’s bills, that means 670 new laws for animals in just nine years. And it’s not just the quantity, but also the quality of how meaningful these policy reforms are in the lives of animals.

This year alone, Arkansas and Kansas became the 38th and 39th states to enact strong felony-level penalties for illegal cockfighting, with Arkansas also the 46th to have a felony law for malicious animal cruelty. Nevada became the 50th state to ban the training and possession of fighting dogs, and Illinois made it a first-offense felony to attend a dogfight. Four states—Indiana, Oregon, Tennessee, and Washington—passed bills to crack down on abusive large-scale puppy mills, and a similar bill is pending in California. Oregon banned the possession of dangerous exotic animals as pets, and Maine phased out the extreme confinement of animals in crates and cages where they can barely move on industrial factory farms. A range of other new policies deal with pet trusts and protective orders, spay/neuter funding, horse abandonment, penalties for poaching, Internet hunting, and other important subjects.

It’s an important marker for our cause that so many state legislators—Democrats and Republicans, from urban and rural states—are introducing animal protection bills, and working so hard to get these new laws over the finish line. This increasing level of support makes it more clear than ever that animal protection is being taken seriously as a public policy issue. We built our record and grew our ranks in a major way in 2009. Find out where your state stands on animal protection legislation, and help us charge forward for animals through the remainder of the year and into 2010.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Get the Lead Out

When mourning dove hunting season begins next week—in most states except Iowa and Michigan which have resisted the entreaties of the gun lobby, and nearly all of the Northeast where the gentle songbirds have long been protected—hunters will once again discharge enormous amounts of toxic lead shot into the environment.

Mourning dove hunting season begins next week in most states.

The soft, heavy metal has been known as a toxic substance for, oh, more than 2,000 years. Lead has been banned from water pipes, paint, gasoline, glass, pottery and a host of other items in order to protect people, especially young children.

But hunters—at least some of them—have held out. The most backward thinking of the bunch continue to spew lead shot and lead ammunition by the ton across our precious outdoors, and argue for the “right” to do so.

Now, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has announced that in lieu of meaningful action on lead it wants to open yet another tedious nationwide inquiry into hunters’ views about it. That’s too bad because the incremental process of ridding our environment of extraneous lead has already dragged out for too many years.

A nationwide ban on lead shot in migratory waterfowl hunting was adopted in 1991 after biologists estimated roughly two million ducks died each year from ingesting spent lead pellets.

California recently banned lead shot in endangered condor territory because condors were dying of lead poisoning. These majestic birds who are struggling for their very survival on the planet were doing only what comes naturally to condors, eating leftovers—that is, eating the gut piles that hunters leave behind. Except that these gut piles contained lead from ammo. And surely they were also eating carcasses of animals who were wounded by hunters and left to die.

Some 23 states require nontoxic ammunition on more than 1.3 million acres of hunting areas and game habitats. These prohibitions were prompted by the devastating lead toll on an estimated 100 bird species, including bald eagles.

Last year, lead-contaminated deer meat was removed from food bank shelves and pregnant women were warned against eating such meat. More recently, Delaware announced regulations prohibiting hunters from using lead shot while dove hunting.

Really, what more needs to be said? There are plentiful nontoxic alternatives, which are only fractionally more expensive.

Unfortunately, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has announced that for its next move, it wants to conduct a “National Mourning Dove Hunter Attitude Survey on Nontoxic Shot.” These songbirds are the most heavily hunted migratory bird in the nation. And the agency says that attitudes of dove hunters will “help us make nontoxic shot policy decisions.”

Gauging the opinions of dove hunters can’t be a bad thing—it just doesn’t seem necessary in light of the overwhelming scientific evidence that cumulative lead deposits pose a significant risk to ground-feeding mourning doves and to other wildlife that directly and indirectly ingest toxic shot, including birds of prey and other animals who scavenge on downed birds.

For every dove shot and bagged, hunters discharge an average of eight shots according to a long-term study conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey and the Fish and Wildlife Service. Densities of greater than 860,000 pellets per hectare have been reported in dove fields, which are usually crop-growing soils. 

You’d think that hunters themselves would be clamoring to stop the systematic poisoning of our environment—which only diminishes their supply of game birds and other animals. After all, are they conservationists or just willful polluters?

While many rank-and-file sportsmen would gladly pay a couple dollars more for a box of nontoxic shells, the hunting industry leadership—like the National Rifle Association and U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance—again stand in the way. These are the same groups, according to Ted Williams, who protested the ban on lead shot for waterfowl hunting in 1991, and called it “the latest scalp in a well-organized, scarcely recognized series of flanking attacks upon the right to keep and bear arms.” Despite the doom-and-gloom rhetoric, hunters know two decades later that was a good decision for waterfowl, and didn’t lead to the end of duck or goose hunting.

What’s good for the goose is good for other birds, too. The new Obama Administration needs to turn away from old habits and not allow the wishes of hunters to delay sound scientific management of our precious outdoors. A good start would be to cancel this unimportant hunter survey and just get the lead out for the sake of fish and wildlife—and everyone who cares about our wildlands.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Talk Back: First Ladies, Vick and Veterans

Today I’d like to share some of your comments to recent blog posts. I recently wrote about First Ladies Michelle Bruni-Sarkozy and Michelle Obama, and their fur-free fashion statements:

The media’s fixation with Michelle Obama’s clothing has always unsettled me, in light of her incredible achievements. I feel like it diminishes her to little more than a clothes hanger. Thank you for reminding me that the personal is political, and that clothing critique can serve a purpose. If Michelle Obama is anti-fur, than I will join others in lauding her as a style icon!—SB

For the first time in more than 15 years, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in a major animal protection case to decide whether to uphold a federal law that bans the commercial sale of videos depicting illegal acts of animal cruelty:

Great report—blogged on the topic...made me ill just reading the words describing the other extreme cruelties inflicted on puppies kittens and other small animals.—Mary H.

In legislative news, a bill has been introduced in Congress to help provide service dogs for wounded warriors and disabled veterans. Pets are good for our emotional and physical health, and studies show that having a pet can lower your blood pressure and cholesterol levels:

What a wonderful idea, all returning soldiers, etc. should be able to bring back their dogs or cats. These animals served their time over there helping our guys survive and they deserved to come home also, with the person they love most. The idea about shelter dogs is so wonderful. I think all pet stores should have to get the animals they sell from shelters. Man, there would be a run on shelters which would eliminate some of the animals killed ever year because they don’t have homes. It would also eliminate the puppy mills and cat dungeons.—Johnnie W.

I’ve also received a flood of comments in response to my post about Michael Vick reaching out to young men in community-based programs to steer them away from dogfighting:

At first I was really disgusted to hear that the HSUS was partnering with Michael Vick. Then, I listened to Wayne Pacelle say that the Humane Society is about change. Vick has a long road ahead to prove himself worthy of association with the Humane Society. The HSUS and Michael Vick share a pragmatic point of view. Street kids WILL listen to him. I just love the wonderful pictures of the anti-fighting team. It’s fabulous to know these guys are on our side.—Georgette

I applaud HSUS’s courage in handling the Vick situation. How much easier it would be to boycott Vick, call him a barbarian and judge him as an immoral unsalvageable human being. HSUS had not given up on Vick and the countless others like him who perpetuate these abominable practices. Instead, the work HSUS is doing has the possibility of saving the lives of pit bulls who are so brutally exploited. By doing so, there is a chance of helping change cultural practices that arise from a culture of poverty and deprivation.—Jean B.

Thank you all for your feedback, and please keep the comments coming. If you have a question or comment and would like to join the conversation, please send me an email. Thanks for all you do for animals!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

HAPPY for Pets

I wrote last year about California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s misguided plan to add a sales tax to veterinary services as part of a larger set of proposals to deal with the state’s multi-billion dollar budget shortfall. Thanks to the work of HSUS, the California Veterinary Medical Association, and state legislators, the governor’s idea was terminated, and California pet owners weren’t forced into an even more difficult situation where tough choices had to be made about cutting care for their animal companions.

The HAPPY Act aims to give pet owners a break with a
tax deduction for pet care expenses.

What’s an even more hopeful sign of the times, however, is that federal lawmakers, led by Rep. Thaddeus McCotter (R-Mich.), are taking a much more foresighted approach by working to give pet owners a break during this economic downturn. McCotter has introduced H.R. 3501—the Humanity and Pets Partnered Through the Years (HAPPY) Act—which would amend the federal tax code to allow a person to deduct up to $3,500 per year for pet care, including veterinary expenses. (The deduction applies only to household companion animals, not animals in laboratories, farms, or other businesses.)

McCotter has been a strong supporter of animal protection, and has advanced issues that promote the safety of both people and animals, such as dog bite prevention. We’re grateful for his leadership in this new effort to help struggling families make ends meet—recognizing that pets are part of the family, too.

During a stressful economic period, McCotter’s bill is as much a human health issue as an animal health issue. Pets are good for us emotionally and physically, and studies show that having a pet can lower your blood pressure and cholesterol levels. If you’ve lost your job or are having trouble paying the mortgage or rent, caring for a companion animal provides a sense of purpose and fulfillment and lessens feelings of loneliness and depression.

The legislation could be a critical safety net to prevent struggling pet owners who can no longer afford to care for their animal companions from relinquishing them at animal shelters—which not only tears families apart but also places a financial burden on local municipalities and private shelters for the costs of housing pets and, tragically, euthanizing them. And by encouraging affordable pet care, the bill not only promotes animal health and well-being, but also could help to stimulate the economy by driving more business to veterinarians, animal hospitals, and pet care providers.

Pet care, in fact, can be big business. More American households can claim pets than children as dependents. Since 1998, pet ownership has increased from 56% of households to 62%—an estimated 71.4 million homes enjoy pet companionship. And to care for these animals in our lives, we collectively spend more than $40 billion—on food, veterinary care, and other supplies and services—every year.

Moreover, pet ownership is not just for the wealthy—58% of households earning incomes of $55,000 or less per year own pets. While pet ownership does increase with income, a recent American Veterinary Medical Association survey revealed that pets are most likely to be a part of families with children led by full-time workers owning their homes. And the largest growth rate in pet ownership is among retired older couples.

Pet food and regular veterinary care are necessities, not luxuries, for the companion animals in our lives, and we can’t skimp on these costs without jeopardizing the health and safety of our pets. If McCotter’s bill is passed into law, it will provide a helping hand to all of us, human and animal alike.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

A Chance to Change

I spent yesterday at the Liberation Christian Center in the Englewood neighborhood of Chicago’s south side, where Michael Vick spoke to at-risk youth and urged them not to get involved in dogfighting. When the Michael Vick case broke two years ago and brought a new level of attention to the cruel and shockingly widespread practice, around the time we worked to pass legislation in Congress establishing felony-level penalties for animal fighting, I wouldn’t have imagined that I’d eventually see Vick share the pulpit with other reformed dogfighters turned HSUS anti-dogfighting advocates, telling kids from personal experience not to go down this dead-end path.

Vick spoke with Chicago’s at-risk youth yesterday to urge them to not get involved in dogfighting.

I typically write on this blog about passing laws to protect animals from cruelty and curb the worst abuses, and that’s been a major focus of HSUS and HSLF when it comes to dogfighting and cockfighting. Backed by our legions of supporters, we’ve engineered most of the state and federal laws on the subject, and have pounded a constant drumbeat to upgrade the penalties and to see these laws enforced. We have encouraged, trained, supported and provided crucial intelligence to law enforcement to bring offenders to justice. We were at it long before the Vick case broke, but the heightened awareness brought by his celebrity helped us pass tougher animal fighting laws in 24 states and in Congress just since Vick’s arrest in 2007.

One of the reasons for stronger laws is to punish the people who refuse to play by society’s rules, and to remove people from society when they pose a larger threat to the community as a whole. It’s especially relevant with animal cruelty, as people who lose their empathy with animals can soon graduate to other violent crimes. Another reason is to have a deterrent effect and prevent people from breaking the law in the first place: The risk of a long incarceration is more likely to sway someone than a misdemeanor fine, especially when thousands of dollars in gambling profits are at stake at an animal fight, and a slap on the wrist is viewed simply as the cost of doing business.

But it’s also a core objective at HSUS and HSLF to give people a chance to change and to cast aside behaviors harmful to animals in favor of more compassion and empathy. Michael Vick served nearly two years in prison, and told the young people at Englewood that he had a lot of time to reflect on the way he had lived his life. He said that he knows what he did to animals was wrong, and that he now wants to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. He said that if he can steer 50, or 100, or 1,000 kids away from dogfighting, then he can help more animals than he harmed.

HSUS and HSLF are in the business of change—changing laws and changing behavior. The law worked when it came to Michael Vick. He did his time, and he’s now doing a type of community service, working with HSUS to make amends for the wrong he did. His example has the potential to change thousands of lives if he sticks with it, sparing dogs the suffering of being torn apart for entertainment, and sparing young men the loss of their freedom and their empathy for other creatures. I was inspired by how many kids in the church were so moved by Vick’s words and his life story—every young man I spoke with yesterday said he has seen dogfights occur in his neighborhood, and that hearing from Michael Vick has shown him a better way.

We need strong laws against cruelty, but the laws can only go so far. We also need community-based outreach programs like the HSUS End Dogfighting campaigns in Chicago and Atlanta, where our anti-dogfighting advocates have street credibility and can reach young men with a message of kindness and compassion. Working with HSUS and members of the clergy, former dogfighters and former gang members talk to at-risk youth on inner-city streets, interrupt dogfights in progress, and show kids that pit bulls are friends, not fighters. Through our pit bull training classes, we tackle the problem at both ends of the leash—working with the dog, but also working with the dog owner. And when those lives are changed for the better—both human and animal—it’s a 100 percent victory for all of us.

Friday, August 07, 2009

11 Habits of Highly Effective Lobbyists

Congressional town hall meetings are erupting in violence over the health care issue. A lobbying firm for the coal industry forged letters supposedly from local groups unhappy with climate change legislation. It seems that grassroots lobbying is getting a bad rap these days.

August is a great time to meet with your federal legislators
to urge support for animal protection bills.

But that shouldn’t discourage animal advocates from being in touch with their members of Congress, especially as lawmakers have just recessed for the summer and are now back home for the district work period. Some special interests might resort to loud confrontations and phony “Astroturf” lobbying, but the animal protection cause has real stories to tell and real people who care about the issue.

When it comes to grassroots advocacy, it’s a question of quality, not quantity. My friend Stephanie Vance wrote on her blog “that just one high quality, thoughtful communication will have more of an impact on a legislator than 10 or 20 or 100 lukewarm communications—no matter whose name is on the letterhead.”

I’ve previously provided some tips for citizen lobbying and urged advocates not to forget about district office meetings. Now that August recess is here, I hope you’ll take the opportunity to visit your members of Congress and their staff at home in your community, and talk to them about why animal protection legislation is important to you.

I’m going to reprint a few tips that you can keep handy, whether you’re making a phone call or visiting them in person to make your case. Because one individual telling a personal story about an important issue is much more effective than all the town hall mobs and Astroturf groups out there.

Identify yourself. Whether you’re calling to register your opinion, or visiting a legislative office in person, start by telling them who you are. Make sure to tell them where you live so they know you’re a constituent. (Typically, you only contact your own legislators, unless it’s a special circumstance such as a committee chairman.) And let them know if you are a member of an organization or have a tie to some other stakeholder—such as HSUS, teachers, sheriffs, or veterinarians.

Be polite and professional.This is common sense, but always worth repeating. You can state your views firmly and forcefully without being hostile or argumentative. Always be friendly and courteous, even if the legislator disagrees with your position. Don’t interrupt or scream out at legislative hearings. And while it’s important to be professional, it’s also important to look professional—legislators and their staff are more likely to be persuaded by people in business attire or some other natty dressware than people wearing cut-off jeans and flip-flops.

State a clear and concise objective. Stay focused on the purpose of your phone call or meeting, and don’t wander off in too many directions. Let them know up front what you are asking them to do, and refer to bills by their numbers and names—such as, “I want Representative Smith to co-sponsor H.R. 503, the Prevention of Equine Cruelty Act.” Be sure to explain any jargon that might be unclear, such as “puppy mills,” “canned hunts,” “pound seizure,” or “Class B dealers.” It’s okay to bring up more than one bill in a meeting, but you may want to limit your list to two or three bills that are most important to you.

Explain why this issue is important to you personally. Lawmakers are interested in data and statistics, but they’re much more interested in how an issue affects their constituents personally. If you have a story to tell, it’s much more compelling than charts and graphs. If you’re talking about dogfighting, you might be an animal control or animal shelter worker who has seen injured pit bulls, or a police officer who has seen the connection that dogfighters have to drugs and violence in your community. If you’re advocating for antifreeze legislation, it might be because you had a dog who was poisoned by drinking the sweet-tasting liquid. If you’re a teacher or parent, you might comment on the impact animal cruelty has on children. Tell your story.

Don’t use form letters.Legislators want to know what you have to say, not just that you can cut and paste. They know when it’s a form letter, period. It’s okay to use talking points and language from advocacy groups like The HSUS and HSLF when you craft your letters, but it’s best to put them into your own words.

Use the web and email effectively. Visit legislators’ official web sites before your meetings, so you can learn in advance about their background, biographical information, positions on issues, and even their pets. If you send email through advocacy web sites such as and, remember to edit that part of the letter that allows you to put it into your own words. You can also send email and register comments through the legislator’s own web site. Phone calls are usually taken more seriously by legislative offices, so if you do send email, you can still follow up with a phone call, too.

Never lie or mislead. The truth for animals is harsh enough, and you don’t need to embellish. If you make up facts and figures or stretch the truth, it will always come back to haunt you. Don’t be afraid to say you don’t know the answer to a question, and offer to look it up for them later or put them in touch with someone who might know. You’re not expected to be an expert on every issue—you are a citizen who cares and has an opinion.

Work with legislative staff. Don’t be offended if you can’t get the legislator on the phone or get a meeting with him or her personally. Lawmakers rely on their staff to meet with constituents, draft legislation, learn the issues, and make policy recommendations. The staff will have more time to get to know you and your issues, and they are your gateway to the elected officials. Get to know the staff and develop relationships, so they will begin to view you as a source of reliable information on animal issues in your community.

Be prepared to compromise. Legislators may not do what you want 100 percent of the time, but they can still help advance the cause of animal protection. If you discuss three bills and they agree to support two, you’ve made progress. Don’t expect complete orthodoxy. A legislator might agree to vote for a bill when it comes to the floor, but doesn’t want to be a co-sponsor for political reasons—a vote in the hand is better than two co-sponsorships in the bush.

Listen to elected officials’ comments and questions. Don’t expect to give a monologue on animal protection. Let them react to the issues you raise, and have a conversation. Their comments and questions will give you cues on how to frame your arguments and what additional information might be useful. If they ask questions or need more information, it gives you an opportunity to follow up with them after your meeting.

Thank someone who was helpful. Always thank a staff member who took the time to meet with you, and follow up with any additional information that’s needed. And if a legislator does what you’ve requested, such as co-sponsor or vote for a bill, be sure to thank him or her for taking that action. Positive reinforcement is the most effective way to develop a good relationship for future issues.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Missing the Mark on Anti-Cruelty Law

This fall, for the first time in more than 15 years, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in a major animal protection case. The high court will decide whether to uphold a 1999 federal law that bans the commercial sale of videos depicting extreme and illegal acts of animal cruelty, such as dogfighting and other deliberate and malicious acts.

This fall, the Supreme Court will hear arguments to decide whether to uphold a federal anti-cruelty law.

The legislation at issue was introduced by Rep. Elton Gallegly (R-Calif.) and targeted a shockingly widespread, underground subculture of “animal crush” videos, where scantily clad women, often in high-heeled shoes, impale and crush to death puppies, kittens and other small animals, catering to those with a sexual fetish for this aberrant behavior. In the last decade, this federal law has helped to dry up the sickening “crush video” industry, and has also been used to prosecute people who profit from the sale of contraband dogfighting films.

Some reforms are so evident that there really is not a debate in society about the right course of action. No one could possibly think that trafficking in videos of women crushing small animals to death for sexual pleasure, or of people forcing two dogs to tear each other apart for entertainment and gambling, is a protected form of free speech.

But some groups—like the National Rifle Association, Safari Club International, and the Outdoor Writers Association of America—have joined ranks with dogfighters, pornographers, and others in their efforts to overturn the law, and legalize the peddling of animal torture videos for profit. Apparently, they have been misled into thinking that their own hunting activities might somehow be banned under the statute, and are lining up with the worst of the worst to strip Congress of its rightful authority to ban the interstate trafficking in commercial depictions of animal cruelty. Even today in his regular column in The Hill, David Keene, the founder of the American Conservative Union and a now defunct hunting rights organization, repeats the canards of the NRA and Safari Club.

The truth is there is nothing in the Depictions of Animal Cruelty Act that could possibly affect lawful sport hunting. Indeed the statute only criminalizes depictions of animal cruelty that are illegal, and it doesn’t cover lawful practices such as hunting. The law specifically exempts any material that has political, social, or artistic value—say, an outdoor column or hunting website—and only affects videos that are sold in interstate commerce for commercial gain. This is essentially the same test for stopping the production and sale of certain forms of human obscenity. No one is going to try to take away someone’s snapshots or home movies of their latest hunting excursion.

The decision by a few extremist hunting groups to stand side-by-side with dogfighters and animal crush aficionados puts them at odds with the 26 state Attorneys General who have asked the high court to uphold this law because it’s vital to protect animals and the larger community from violence, drug trafficking, and other crimes that flow from the morally deadened hearts of people who perpetrate malicious cruelty. Would the nation’s top law enforcement officials—many of them from big hunting states—come out in favor of this law if it actually somehow impacted lawful hunting? 

The desultory tactics of people who peddle fetish films of extreme animal cruelty have apparently led the hunting groups to stray down the trail of opposing this law. Most hunters, like most other Americans, have zero tolerance for malicious acts of animal cruelty. This federal law is no more ambiguous than state anti-cruelty statutes, many of which do not specifically exempt hunting, but which are never used against lawful hunting practices. It’s a common-sense standard. 

As the Attorneys General’s brief makes clear, there are strong arguments that commercial depictions of animal cruelty, like child pornography, should not be entitled to any First Amendment protection at all. The makers and sellers of these videos are not expressing a viewpoint—they are simply profiting from extreme cruelty. We wouldn’t allow people to sell videos of people actually abusing children or raping women, and the same legal principles are at hand with malicious acts of cruelty, which are illegal in every state and a felony in nearly all.

The NRA and Safari Club leadership have repeatedly demonstrated they are out of step with rank-and-file sportsmen and the American public, by defending inhumane and repugnant practices such as “canned hunts” of captive exotic animals, the trade in bear parts for their gall bladders, the trophy shooting of threatened polar bears in the Arctic, and even poaching and puppy mills. Their intervention in this case is not only based on a gross misreading of this important federal anti-cruelty law, but also shows that their refrain about representing traditional values is cheap and false rhetoric and nothing more.

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