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May 2011

Friday, May 27, 2011

State by State Roundup on Animal Protection

Nearly five months into 2011, many state legislatures have already adjourned for the year. There has been a tremendous amount of progress made on state policies to protect animals from cruelty and abuse, with most of the efforts led by HSLF and The HSUS, even while lawmakers’ attention is consumed with budget crises and other pressing social concerns.

So far, 40 new animal protection laws have been enacted in the states in 2011. Another 17 bills have passed both chambers, and either await a governor’s signature or further action in a conference committee, while 52 bills have passed one chamber, many of which have a chance of getting over the finish line if their state is still in session. Additionally, 56 bills that would have been harmful to animals have been defeated. Here’s a wrap-up on some of the big ticket items for animals in state capitols around the country.

Pittie_chain_160 ANIMAL CRUELTY: Mississippi became the 47th state to establish felony-level penalties for malicious acts of cruelty to animals. Only Idaho, North Dakota and South Dakota remain misdemeanor cruelty states. Maryland enacted a law allowing courts to prohibit people convicted of cruelty from owning animals during their probation, Florida approved a ban on bestiality, and a bill on the Hawaii governor’s desk will close a loophole in the cruelty statute that exempted “vermin” from humane protections. Colorado, Minnesota and West Virginia upgraded the penalties for killing or injuring public service dogs, and a bill awaiting the governor's signature in New Jersey will do the same. Arkansas, Maryland and Virginia passed laws allowing pets to be included in domestic violence protection orders, and similar bills, if signed by the governors of Oregon and Texas, will bring the total number of states with such protections up to 22.

ANIMAL FIGHTING: Bills awaiting gubernatorial signatures in Hawaii and Texas will close major loopholes in those states’ laws against animal fighting. Hawaii’s bill will upgrade the penalties for dogfighting and make it a felony to attend a dogfight or use “bait dogs”—often lost or stolen pets—to train dogs for fighting. Texas’ bill will ban the possession of cockfighting birds and weapons and attendance at cockfights. If signed into law, Hawaii will be the 49th state to ban attendance at dogfights, and Texas will be the 43rd state to ban attendance at cockfights, the 38th to ban possession of fighting birds, and the 17th to ban fighting implements such as razor-sharp knives and gaffs strapped to rooster’s legs to increase the bloodletting.

Cat ANTIFREEZE POISONING: Georgia, Maryland and West Virginia passed laws requiring the addition of a bittering agent into antifreeze and engine coolant to prevent animals and children from being poisoned by the sweet-tasting liquid. A Texas bill is close to passing the legislature, and if it’s adopted and signed by the governor, 18 states will have laws to prevent antifreeze poisoning.

POACHING: Arizona, South Carolina, Vermont, Washington and Wyoming upgraded their state laws to protect wildlife from being illegally killed by poachers. With budget cuts and fewer state resources and law enforcement officers to patrol vast amounts of wilderness, it’s even more important to have strong penalties to deter “thrill killing” and other illegal hunting.

Shark SHARK FINNING: Washington became the second state (after Hawaii) to ban the sale of shark fins, and similar bills in California and Oregon have each passed one chamber and are making their way through the legislative process. With the Pacific states drying up the demand for shark fin soup and other shark products, it will help stem the tide on the brutal “finning” of sharks at sea—cutting off their fins and throwing them back into the water to die painfully—and the rapid decline of many shark populations worldwide.

PUPPY MILLS: Although Missouri politicians substituted their judgment for the will of the people, and repealed most of the core elements of Proposition B, the Puppy Mill Cruelty Prevention Act, other state lawmakers have made forward progress on the puppy mill issue. A bill enacted in Maryland and another on the governor’s desk in Texas will crack down on puppy mills in those states. Puppy mill bills passed one chamber in West Virginia and two chambers in Hawaii, but did not receive final action this year. An Oklahoma bill to repeal the state’s puppy mill law was defeated.

AG GAG: Legislation to punish whistleblowers and prevent videotaping and reporting on abuses at industrial factory farms was defeated in Florida and Minnesota. Similar bills to shield agribusiness and roll back free speech are still pending in Iowa and New York.

Captive hunts UNSPORTING HUNTS: A number of states considered bills to expand the captive shooting of tame animals trapped inside fenced enclosures, and some made the argument that canned hunting would provide economic development opportunities. Working with responsible hunters and pointing out that canned hunts could cost taxpayers billions of dollars when captive animals spread diseases to native wildlife populations, we defeated these bills in Georgia, Indiana, Mississippi, Tennessee and West Virginia. Colorado and Maine considered bills to allow bear hunting during the spring—when mother bears are nursing their dependent cubs—and those bills were defeated, too. 

FERAL CATS: The Utah legislature considered perhaps the most absurd bill of 2011, which would have allowed the shooting or bludgeoning of any stray cat believed to be feral. That bill was sent to the litter box, and instead, Utah enacted a positive measure that officially sanctions trap-neuter-return (TNR) as a humane method of managing feral cat populations.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Congressional Pets Have Their Day

Who is Capitol Hill’s most distinguished dog? The most captivating cat? How about the handsomest horse? We will soon find out, as Members of Congress and their staff over the last few weeks have been submitting photos of their beloved dogs, cats and horses for the 2011 Congressional Pet Photo Contest, co-sponsored by HSLF and The HSUS.

Liberty, owned by Rep. James Lankford, R-Okla.

The contest is a "bi-pawtisan" event to celebrate Washington’s furriest movers and shakers. Christina Wilkie of The Hill reported that “competition is fierce,” and Emily Heil of Roll Call’s “Heard on the Hill” column called it “an epic competition of adorableness.” We’ll be giving out a number of awards, including Barker of the House, Feline Pawjority Leader, and Steed of State.

More than 200 pet photos were entered in the contest, each one with its own unique story. Entries ranged from pampered puppies to formerly feral cats and retired racehorses. It warmed my heart to see the incredible diversity of animals who have found homes on the Hill, and to read the descriptions of these pets. Each one is a testament to the compassion that lawmakers and staffers alike have for their four-legged companions.

Gibbs, owned by Erin Moffet,
staffer for Rep. Alcee L. Hastings, D-Fla.

Today marks the opening of a new phase of the contest—the People’s Choice competition. Now is your chance to cast a vote for your favorite photo. Seven semi-finalists have been selected, and one lucky winner will receive the coveted People’s Choice Award of 2011—and supreme bragging rights!

Here’s how it works: Visit the People’s Choice website through June 6th to view the semi-finalists, and vote for the candidate of your choice—it’s that simple. Check back June 15th when we will announce the winner. Vote today for your favorite congressional pet!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Round Two: Spending that’s Worth Every Penny

I recently wrote about a sign-on letter circulating in the U.S. House, which called for funds to ensure that the U.S. Department of Agriculture can adequately enforce key animal welfare laws. With your help, we got a strong bipartisan showing on that, with 120 Representatives covering 32 states, two U.S. territories, and the District of Columbia joining the effort. Now it’s the Senate’s turn.

Senators Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and David Vitter (R-La.) are circulating a letter to the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, which seeks funds to improve enforcement of key animal welfare laws in Fiscal Year 2012, and they are asking their colleagues to co-sign this letter and lend their support. The funds requested in the letter are modest, but are critically needed to implement and enforce the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, the Animal Welfare Act, the Horse Protection Act, the federal animal fighting law, and programs to help prepare for the needs of animals in disasters and to address the shortage of veterinarians in rural and inner-city areas and public health practice.

A dog rescued from a puppy mill in Tennessee
A dog rescued from a puppy mill in Tennessee.
Animal welfare funding would help strengthen oversight of puppy mills.

As Congress focuses on cutting federal spending, we have proposed several ideas for easing the burden on taxpayers while simultaneously helping animals. We’re heartened that there seems to be an emerging consensus on cutting massive subsidies for well-off operators of huge factory farms. In addition, there’s plenty of other indefensible spending that should be curbed—such as taxpayer-financed poisoning of wildlife, rounding up wild horses to keep them in long-term holding pens, and warehousing chimpanzees in costly laboratories.

But Congress can achieve macro-level cuts while still taking care to ensure that specific small and vital accounts have the funds they need. Whether an animal welfare law will be effective often turns on whether it gets adequately funded. Having legislators seek that funding is crucial, especially when there are strong competing budget pressures as there are now. Our fortunes are intertwined with those of animals, and proper enforcement not only helps these creatures but also helps to improve food safety, public health, disaster preparedness, and other social concerns.

Your senators need to hear from you today. Click here to find your two U.S. senators’ names and contact information. Please urge both your U.S. senators to co-sign the Senate animal welfare funding group letter being circulated by Senators Boxer and Vitter, or include these items among their own individual requests, before the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee’s deadline of May 27th.

This is just the latest installment in a multiyear effort. The HSUS and HSLF have been steadily building the enforcement budgets for these laws, recognizing that laws on the books won’t do animals much good if they’re not enforced. Over the past twelve years, for example, we’ve succeeded in boosting the annual funding for enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act by 139.5% (a cumulative total of more than $84 million in new dollars to the program). Today, there are 130 USDA inspectors, compared to about 60 inspectors during the 1990s, to help ensure basic humane treatment at thousands of puppy mills, research laboratories, zoos, circuses, and other facilities.

With encouragement from you and other caring people around the country, we hope Congress will keep sustaining these efforts to protect animals from cruelty and abuse. It’s an investment in the animals’ future—and our own.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Introducing the Animals & Politics Podcast

I'm pleased to introduce my new Animals & Politics podcast. Click on the player below to listen, or you can click here. I am grateful to my friend Patrick Ferrise for hosting the first podcast. From time to time in this forum, you’ll be hearing from me about proud accomplishments of our elected leaders and regulatory officials on behalf of animals. But today I want to draw your attention to a couple of stories about government’s abject failures.

Michael Markarian - Animals & Politics Podcast #1

Thursday, May 05, 2011

20 Years of Advances for Animals

This morning I spoke to a group of animal welfare advocates from around the world gathered in Orlando, Fla., for The HSUS’s 20th anniversary Animal Care Expo, the largest trade show for animal care and sheltering professionals. Several leaders in the field looked back over two decades and reported on progress that has been made for animal welfare. I offered some observations on the advances for animal protection legislation over the past 20 years.

Mourning-dove Throughout a large part of the twentieth century, few animal welfare groups focused on state policy, and fewer still on national policy. Nonetheless, there were several ballot initiatives dealing with vivisection, rodeo, moose hunting, steel-jawed leghold traps, and veal crates, with voters rejecting most of the measures. Only one of them passed—a 1972 measure in South Dakota to ban dove hunting—but voters reversed the dove hunting ban eight years later.

In 1988, the California Fish and Game Commission voted to institute a mountain lion hunting season. Animal protection advocates sued the state to delay the onset of the hunting. Concomitantly, they launched and qualified an initiative—with volunteers amassing in excess of 600,000 signatures—to ban any trophy hunting of lions. In June 1990, voters approved the measure, and its passage sparked renewed interest in the initiative process by animal protection advocates.

Greyhound Since 1990, HSUS and its affiliates (The Fund for Animals, Doris Day Animal League, and HSLF) have been involved in 42 statewide ballot campaigns, and have won 30, for a 72% win rate, one of the highest of any social movement. During the past 20 years, when voters have been asked to weigh in on animal protection policies, time and time again they have sided with animals: five states have banned cruel traps, four states have banned hound hunting and bear baiting; three states have banned cockfighting; three states have banned the confinement of farm animals; and states have taken action on horse slaughter, greyhound racing, puppy mills, and other subjects.

With citizens directly voting in favor of animal protection reforms at the ballot box, it has sent a message to lawmakers that there is widespread and bipartisan support for these policies, and has helped to provide support for additional laws passed through representative government. Consider the dramatic changes in just 20 years:

  • In 1991 only seven states had felony-level penalties for animal cruelty (California, Florida, Massachusetts, Michigan, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, and Wisconsin). Today, 47 states have felony animal cruelty laws, with Mississippi’s cruelty law enacted just last week and only North Dakota, South Dakota, and Idaho now remaining as outliers.
  • In 1991 only 14 states considered dogfighting a felony offense. Today, all 50 states make it a felony, and we have a national policy on the issue.
  • In 1991 five states allowed legal cockfighting (Arizona, Louisiana, Missouri, New Mexico, and Oklahoma), and of the 45 that banned it, only 13 had felony penalties. Today, cockfighting is banned in all 50 states, and a felony in 39.
  • In 1991 there were virtually no restrictions on standard agricultural practices. Today seven states have banned or are phasing out the extreme confinement of farm animals in crates or cages.
  • In 1991 only 17 states had some licensing and regulation of large-scale commercial dog breeders. Today, the laws in many states have been strengthened, and 31 states now have laws in place to crack down on puppy mills.
  • In 1991 virtually no state laws required disaster plans to include animals, yet post-Katrina 16 states passed laws to protect animals in disasters, and the Congress passed a national policy on the subject.

Puppy mill All in all, with an average of 50 new laws for animals passed in the states each year, we estimate there have been at least 1,000 new statutes for animal protection enacted since 1991. Add to that the federal laws on animal crush videos, fur labeling, shark finning, big cats as pets, chimpanzee sanctuaries, pet food safety, animal fighting, dog and cat fur, alternatives to animal testing, pets in air travel, military and law enforcement dogs, puppy mill imports, banning USDA inspections of horse slaughter, and so many other successes, and the past two decades have been an unprecedented era of lawmaking for animal protection.

Gestation crate With new innovations over the last 20 years, there have been new issues to confront. Who ever thought, for example, that the Internet would be used to allow people to shoot animals at canned hunts remotely with the click of a mouse or the stroke of a keyboard? Now, 40 states have taken action to ban Internet hunting. And with the progress made on animal protection issues around the country, our opponents are fighting back with new tactics of their own—such as the “Ag Gag” laws proposed in Florida, Iowa, and Minnesota to ban journalists and whistleblowers from reporting on factory farm abuses. 

Whatever the challenges of the coming decades, and whatever new issues emerge, we will be prepared to continue the fight for animal protection. But today we look back and celebrate the progress of the last 20 years and the public policies that have prevented so much cruelty and abuse.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

A Deadly Deal for Animals

The congressional backroom budget deal that stripped gray wolves of their Endangered Species Act protections was a shameful example of politics at its worst. And now we’re seeing the impact, as the state of Idaho puts measures in place to begin the trapping and aerial gunning of wolves, according to the Lewiston Tribune, as soon as this week. Not only did the White House and Congress sign off on eliminating federal species protection by legislative fiat, but now it appears that federal wildlife agents will actually be the ones to conduct the shooting of wolves from aircraft.

Bella, just two weeks before she died from deadly
poisons meant for wildlife yards from her family's
doorstep in central Texas. photo: Predator Defense

This is the same Wildlife Services program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture that has been wasting tens of millions of taxpayer dollars and recklessly killing animals with steel-jawed leghold traps, toxic poisons, aerial gunning, and other inhumane methods. The poisons, particularly Compound 1080 and M-44 sodium cyanide devices, are so deadly and indiscriminate that they have killed family pets like Bea while she was on a hiking trip on public land in northern Utah, and Bella just yards from her family’s doorstep in central Texas.

There is a legitimate case to be made for a federal agency that helps to solve wildlife conflicts, providing training and research on best practices with an emphasis on innovation and non-lethal solutions. But Wildlife Services in its current form is a relic of the past, exterminating wildlife as a government subsidy for private ranchers and other special interests, using inhumane and ineffective methods, while the U.S. taxpayers foot the bill.

Lethal control is often ineffective at protecting livestock, since other predators simply move in to the vacant territory. In some cases the money spent to kill predators is a greater cost than the value of the livestock losses sustained by ranchers. There are much more cost-effective and humane, non-lethal methods available, such as the use of llamas and other guard animals, lighting, penning, and other proven approaches. If policymakers are serious about cutting spending and reforming wasteful government programs, here’s a great place to start.

In all the clamor to de-list wolves, the rallying cry from western lawmakers was that wolf management should be turned over to the states. If that’s the case, why are they now asking the federal government to conduct the killing?

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