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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.

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