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May 2010

Friday, May 28, 2010

Speak Up for PUPS

It’s appropriate that the month of May, which is perhaps best known for Mother’s Day, saw so much activity on the puppy mill issue—and we see light on the horizon for the hundreds of thousands of mother dogs who are kept in wire cages for their entire lives producing litter after litter, without exercise, companionship, or human interaction.

Urge Congress to support the PUPS legislation and make
cracking down on puppy mill abuses a priority.

Missourians for the Protection of Dogs submitted nearly 200,000 signatures of voters to qualify the Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act for the November statewide ballot, and St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa and other prominent Missourians endorsed the measure to provide more humane treatment of dogs in the nation’s top puppy mill state. In the second largest puppy mill state, Oklahoma Governor Brad Henry signed legislation to provide better oversight of large-scale dog breeding operations. Lawmakers in Illinois and Louisiana passed bills to further strengthen their laws protecting dogs and consumers. And “Animal Planet Investigates: Petland” exposed the cruel conditions uncovered by an HSUS investigation into the suppliers of the nation’s largest retail seller of puppy mill dogs, spurring scores of heartbroken puppy buyers to come forward and tell their stories after purchasing sick pets.

On the federal level, the USDA’s Office of Inspector General released a report criticizing the agency’s history of lax oversight of dog dealers under the Animal Welfare Act. The agency reviewed inspections and enforcement actions taken against dealers from 2006 to 2008 and found that USDA inspectors failed to cite or properly document inhumane treatment and brought little to no enforcement actions against violators. This audit mirrors what HSUS, HSLF and other animal welfare organizations have been reporting for years, that USDA has historically allowed dog dealers to violate the law without fear of any kind of aggressive enforcement actions.

We are hopeful about a new determination at USDA, and Secretary Tom Vilsack’s strong statements that the administration is going to take a tougher stance on repeat offenders by conducting more inspections and imposing higher fines. Secretary Vilsack wrote to members of Congress urging them to strengthen the Animal Welfare Act and help USDA improve enforcement, specifically by closing “the loophole for entities that sell large volumes of dogs via the Internet.” Secretary Vilsack wrote, “I recognize the importance of addressing the exemption associated with high volume retail sales of dogs, via the Internet or through other means.”

This week, Senators Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and David Vitter (R-La.) and Representatives Sam Farr (D-Calif.), Jim Gerlach (R-Pa.), Lois Capps (D-Calif.), and Bill Young (R-Fla.) introduced bipartisan legislation to do just that. The Puppy Uniform Protection Statute (PUPS), S. 3424 and H.R. 5434, would require that large-scale puppy mills selling dogs directly to the public meet the basic standards of the Animal Welfare Act. Currently, only puppy mills that sell dogs wholesale to pet stores are regulated, and those selling to the public directly, such as through Internet sites, completely escape federal oversight. The legislation will ensure that all puppy mills play by the same rules, and would also require that dogs receive exercise and get out of their cages at least once a day.

We are pleased to see USDA taking a more active role in federal animal welfare legislation, and grateful to Senators Durbin and Vitter and Representatives Farr, Gerlach, Capps, and Young for advancing this much-needed policy reform. Please contact your members of Congress before the month of May winds down, and urge them to support the PUPS legislation and make cracking down on puppy mill abuses a priority. And if you’re looking to bring a puppy into your family, please make shelter adoption your first choice, and view the HSUS puppy buyers’ guide online if you plan to buy from a breeder.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Measuring the Benefits of Ballot Measures

We’ve always known that statewide ballot initiatives have intangible benefits for the animal protection movement, in addition to getting new public policies enacted for animals. Thousands of animal advocates are trained in the political process when they gather signatures, knock on doors, or otherwise participate in campaigns. Millions of voters deliberate on animal protection issues when they walk into the voting booth and have to select “Yes” or “No” on a measure. Households across the state see images of factory farms, cockfighting, steel-jawed leghold traps, greyhound racing, and other issues through paid advertising and earned media, and gain a new-found appreciation for our struggles and for the plight of animals. 

Statewide ballot initiatives have intangible benefits for the
animal protection movement.

Now there’s a peer-reviewed study that confirms these findings. New research published in the Journal of Agricultural & Food Industrial Organization shows that publicity about California’s Proposition 2 in 2008 increased consumer awareness about animal cruelty in industrial egg production, dramatically increasing the demand for cage-free eggs and decreasing demand for eggs from caged hens.

In “The Effect of Proposition 2 on the Demand for Eggs in California,” Oklahoma State University professor Jayson L. Lusk investigates “the market effects of Proposition 2 by studying whether and how consumer demand for eggs changed in the months leading up to the vote in San Francisco and Oakland.” Lusk compared the purchasing habits of consumers in the Bay Area, where there had been heavy TV advertising by proponents and opponents of Prop 2, to those in Dallas, which had been unaffected by the campaign.

“The results suggest that the very act of putting an issue like Prop 2 on the ballot affects consumers’ preferences—likely because consumers are largely unaware of and have incorrect beliefs about modern agricultural practices,” Lusk concluded. The research shows that despite higher prices, demand for cage-free and organic eggs increased 180 percent and 20 percent, respectively, in response to news stories about Prop 2—even as demand for cheaper battery cage eggs in Bay Area retail markets dropped and overall egg demand was unchanged.

Ohioans for Humane Farms is now working to place a similar factory farming measure on the ballot in November, and Missourians for the Protection of Dogs has just submitted more than 190,000 signatures to qualify a measure cracking down on abusive puppy mills. If history is any guide, the millions of voters in these states will have the opportunity not only to pass laws that prevent animal cruelty, but also to vote with their wallets when they learn about the misery that animals experience every day on puppy mills and factory farms.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Liberty is Safe Again in Missouri

New York Assemblyman Gideon J. Tucker—the author of a mid-19th century animal cruelty law—wrote as a judge in 1866: “No man’s life, liberty or property are safe while the Legislature is in session.”

Puppy mills 
Missourians can help crack down on cruel puppy mills by
voting “Yes”  on the Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act this

He probably would have been relieved Friday evening when Missouri lawmakers finally left the state capitol for the year, after failing to pass a number of measures designed to prop up the puppy mill industry and take away the right of Missouri citizens to vote on animal cruelty issues.

Missouri is the nation’s top puppy mill state, with at least 3,000 large-scale dog breeding operations producing about 40 percent of U.S. puppies for commercial sale. Missourians for the Protection of Dogs—a coalition led by the Humane Society of Missouri, Missouri Alliance for Animal Legislation, ASPCA, and HSUS—has submitted more than 190,000 signatures of Missouri voters to place a measure on the November ballot that would turn around the state’s reputation as the puppy mill capital of America, and provide basic humane standards for dogs such as clean food and water, adequate space, exercise, and veterinary care.

But some Missouri lawmakers are so beholden to the puppy mill industry that they introduced a flurry of legislation to undermine the ballot measure and stop citizens from voting on it. A constitutional amendment and several statutory bills attempted to ensure that any laws dealing with animal issues would need to be passed by the legislature, not by voters, and a maneuver toward the end of the session would have required a two-thirds supermajority to pass an animal protection ballot initiative, rather than the simple majority required for all other policy issues.

Opinion leaders across the state panned the attempted power grab. An editorial in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch noted, “The same lawmakers who boast so eloquently about their fealty to the will of the people are poised to strip a piece of it from the state constitution,” while another in the Kansas City Star opined, “It’s hard to know what part of this proposal…is more objectionable: The sanctioning of cruelty to small animals or the thumb in the eye of the public.” Kansas City Star columnist Barb Shelly commented on Jefferson City’s paranoia and rhetoric: “If a list was to be made of the Missouri legislature’s many quirks, its suspicion of animal protection measures must rank high on the list.”

Fortunately, the full-court press to protect puppy mills failed after a late-night filibuster, and the session adjourned. The voting rights of Missouri citizens are still intact, and the legislature can do no more damage to liberty—at least not this year. It clears the way for the Secretary of State to certify the Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act for the statewide ballot, and for Missouri voters to protect dogs by voting “Yes” to crack down on abusive puppy mills this November.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Consumers Want the Truth

I testified this afternoon at a hearing of the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection, in support of H.R. 2480, the Truth in Fur Labeling Act. This bill, introduced by Representatives Jim Moran (D-Va.) and Mary Bono Back (R-Calif.), along with its counterpart, S. 1076, introduced by Senators Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), would close a loophole in the nearly 60-year-old federal fur labeling law that allows many fur-trimmed jackets and other apparel to be sold without labels. Representatives of the Federal Trade Commission and the Fur Information Council of America also testified at today’s hearing, and both had positive things to say about the need for accurate and consistent labeling so that consumers can make informed purchasing choices in the marketplace.

Lab tests showed that this Burberry jacket, advertised as
"faux fur," was actually trimmed with rabbit fur.

When Congress passed the Fur Products Labeling Act in 1951, most fur was used for full-length coats. But today, the market has become inverted, and much of the fur is used as trim on jackets, sweaters, vests, hats, gloves, and other apparel. A loophole in the labeling law allows any garment with $150 or less worth of fur material to be sold without disclosing the type of animal fur used, and that loophole has led to widespread confusion and deception in the marketplace. I showed the subcommittee two blow-up posters of fur-trimmed jackets and their labels—a Burberry jacket advertised as “faux fur” which turned out to be rabbit fur, and a Rocawear jacket with no mention of fur on the label which was trimmed with raccoon dog.

The loophole is so unreasonable that massive amounts of fur can be used on a jacket and still fall below the $150 labeling threshold—for example, the fur from 30 rabbits ($5 each), fifteen muskrats ($10 each), nine chinchillas ($16 each), or five raccoons ($28 each). Department store sales clerks often don’t know what the jackets are made of, and wrongly tell consumers that if it’s not labeled as fur, it must be fake. Consumers can’t tell the difference, especially when animal fur is dyed or sheared to look fake, and when the quality of synthetic fur has greatly improved in recent years. Inventory changes frequently, and shoppers even try on jackets and return them to the wrong racks. Attaching a clear and consistent label to the garment itself is the only way to avoid this confusion.

Seven out of eight fur garments sold in the marketplace already require labeling, and the Truth in Fur Labeling Act would apply that same standard to the remaining one out of eight that currently can be sold without labels. It won’t be a burden on businesses since labeling has been an integral part of the manufacturing process for decades, and it may actually simplify the process and make it more efficient. Just as the labeling of other products—such as food, medicine, or wool apparel—is not dependent on the dollar value of the item being sold, fur garments should be treated no differently. A well-informed decision made by a consumer based on complete information is a cornerstone of a functioning market economy.

People who have ethical objections to fur or allergies to fur are currently being denied an opportunity to make informed choices, and that must change. I am grateful to Subcommittee Chairman Bobby Rush (D-Ill.) and Ranking Member Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) for holding today’s hearing, and look forward to working with them and other lawmakers to pass this important consumer protection measure in Congress. Please contact your members of Congress today and ask them to support the Truth in Fur Labeling Act.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Law Helps Take Down Animal Fighters

The federal Farm Bill passed in 2008 included several animal welfare provisions, with one strengthening the federal law against dogfighting and cockfighting and building on the Animal Fighting Prohibition Enforcement Act which was enacted a year earlier. The new measure upgraded the federal penalties for animal fighting from three years to five years in prison. Importantly, it made it a federal felony to possess and train fighting animals for use in an animal fighting venture, and allowed federal prosecutions of animal fighting rings with an interstate commerce connection regardless of whether the particular animals fighting moved in interstate commerce.

In 2008, the Farm Bill included a measure that gave police
and prosecutors a new tool in their kit to crack down on
animal fighting.

Last week, a federal jury in South Carolina convicted six cockfighters under the new law, in the first prosecution in a case where animals were not transported across state lines for purposes of fighting them. The week-long trial revealed not only the underlying crime, but the inner workings of a secret cockfighting ring. Sgt. John Lewis of the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources had gone undercover at a cockfighting arena in rural Swansea, and described in dramatic fashion how his cover was blown—surrounded by 200 angry cockfighters with his backup team miles away—and he literally bluffed his way out and escaped with his life.

John Monk’s week-long reporting for The State highlighted the clandestine nature of the operation, and the danger and difficulty of rooting out hardcore animal fighting operations in rural areas. He quoted assistant U.S. Attorney Nathan Williams, saying of the cockfighters, “They thought nobody would know what was going on,” and adding that cockfighting participants had elaborate screening procedures to keep outsiders away from their rural arenas. 

As The State further reported on the trial, “Prosecutors used a novel approach in making their case: They argued the cockfighters were in violation of the federal interstate commerce act because they used tools, cotton balls, syringes and a pair of scales that were made outside of the state. Prosecutors even flew in an expert from England to testify about a bottle manufactured by his company in Alabama.”

The law passed by Congress gave police and prosecutors a new tool in their kit to crack down on animal fighting, and it’s working. It adds the full power of the federal government and enlists thousands of federal law enforcement agents into the ongoing state efforts to take down organized animal fighting operations and vigorously prosecute those who abuse animals and turn them into murderous fighting machines. It brings us one step closer to eradicating dogfighting and cockfighting in America, and all the crimes associated with this depravity.

Thanks to Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Representatives John Conyers (D-Mich.), Betty Sutton (D-Ohio), Elton Gallegly (R-Calif.), and Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) who introduced and pushed for these provisions. Their hard work will land animal fighters in prison and spare animals from suffering the cruelty of staged combat.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Florida's Giant Snake Problem

An editorial in yesterday’s Columbus Dispatch called on Ohio lawmakers to crack down on the trade in dangerous exotic pets, referencing not only the problems in their own backyard but also the problems 1,000 miles away—as Burmese pythons, Nile monitor lizards, and other imported species interfere with Florida’s ecosystems. While Ohio politicians have failed to pass common-sense policies and the state ranks among the lowest in the nation on animal protection laws, Florida and federal policymakers are doing their part to tackle this animal welfare, public safety, and ecological threat.

Florida and federal policymakers are working to protect
Floriday's treasured ecosystems from invasive "reptiles of

Last week Florida lawmakers took action to prohibit private possession of species considered “reptiles of concern” in the state. These species—Burmese pythons, Northern and Southern African pythons, reticulated pythons, amethystine pythons, green anacondas and Nile monitor lizards—are or have the potential to become invasive and prey on native wildlife. They also can pose dangers to people, as evidenced by the two-year-old toddler who was killed in Florida when a Burmese python escaped from an aquarium in her home.

The Florida legislature unanimously passed a bill to stop new acquisitions of these animals as pets. Existing, legally owned animals would be grandfathered in under the new law, but the procurement of new large snakes would be barred. We urge Governor Charlie Crist to sign this bipartisan bill into law to protect people, Florida’s treasured ecosystems, and the welfare of the animals who suffer in the exotic pet trade.

In addition, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission approved draft rules that essentially accomplish the same purpose and will consider final rule-approval in June.

At the federal level, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed important new rules to list nine species of large constrictor snakes as “injurious,” which will stop importation and interstate commerce in these animals as pets. The species were chosen based on a comprehensive report by the U.S. Geological Survey that found they all pose high or medium risk to the environment; none are low risk.

When you add in the threat to humans, and the suffering that the snakes themselves endure in the trade, then the case for a trade ban for all nine species of large constrictor snakes is overwhelming. We are grateful for the leadership of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar in advancing this critical policy reform.

Comments on the proposed federal rules are due May 11. You can submit a comment directly here, or if you use our form before May 5 to make a supportive comment we will print and deliver it for you. Thank you for taking action to stop the trade in giant snakes.

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