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July 2011

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Governor Brown Steps Up to Stop Animal Cruelty

California Gov. Jerry Brown signed two important animal protection bills into law this week, filling gaps in the law and marking more measurable progress for animals in the Golden State.

Senate Bill 917, introduced by Sen. Ted Lieu, D-Torrance, prohibits the sale of animals in parking lots, alongside roads, at carnivals or boardwalks, and also increases the state’s criminal penalties for animal neglect. Animals sold at these unregulated, outdoor venues may live in unsanitary, crowded cages, without food or water, and without protection from extreme heat or cold. Some of the animals are so ill they die shortly after purchase, representing a problem for consumers as well as animal welfare.

Senate Bill 426, authored by Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, strengthens the state law against animal fighting, by allowing landlords to evict tenants who engage in the public nuisance of dogfighting or cockfighting activities on their property. California has weak penalties for cockfighting crimes, especially compared to neighboring states such as Arizona and Oregon, and it's become a magnet for animal fighters who want to evade the tougher penalties elsewhere. Just this past weekend, Madera County officials arrested nine people, including two juveniles, and seized 45 roosters at a property that borders a school and has been used repeatedly for cockfighting.

Sutter Brown, the governor's dog, getting a belly rub from a Boy Scout troop<br />photo: Jennifer Fearing
Sutter Brown, the governor's dog, getting a belly rub
from a Boy Scout troop.
photo: Jennifer Fearing

The bills on roadside sales and animal neglect, in fact, had passed the legislature before, but were vetoed by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who had a schizophrenic record on animal welfare issues. The new governor’s signing of these common-sense policy reforms demonstrates just what a difference a single election can make and the importance of having humane-minded lawmakers elected to public office. The governor’s Welsh corgi, Sutter Brown, is not only a familiar tail wagging around the Capitol, but the governor’s support for animal welfare policies is getting noticed by animal advocates, too.

“Governor Brown’s signing of these bills signals his desire to enact meaningful reforms protecting animals in the Golden State,” said Jennifer Fearing, California senior state director for The HSUS. “With two strokes of his pen, Governor Brown brings us closer to stopping cruel animal fighting, unscrupulous peddling of animals on roads, and heartwrenching animal neglect. We are grateful for his humane leadership.”

The two California measures bring us up to 82 new laws for animal protection passed in the states so far in 2011. Some of the major highlights include Mississippi becoming the 47th state to establish felony-level penalties for animal cruelty, Oregon and Washington banning the sale of shark fins, Hawaii making it a felony to be a spectator at a dogfight, Texas cracking down on cockfighting and puppy mills, and a number of states strengthening the penalties for wildlife poaching and requiring the addition of a bittering agent to antifreeze and engine coolant to prevent poisoning of pets and wildlife.

A few state legislatures are still in session, and we could see another record year for animal protection lawmaking as 2011 comes to a close. Please find out about the pending animal welfare bills in your state, as well as the federal bills in Congress, and let your elected officials know these public policies are important to you as a constituent. 

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Stop the Trade in Giant Snakes as Pets

Last week, a jury convicted a Florida couple for failing to protect 2-year-old Shaianna Hare, who was asphyxiated in her crib by a dangerous family pet—an 8-foot-6-inch, 13-pound albino Burmese python. The tragedy occurred in Central Florida in 2009, and as it was relived during the trial, you saw the anguished faces of the people who lost the toddler because they bought a constrictor python at a flea market and kept it in a poorly secured cage.

2-year-old Shaianna Hare, who was asphyxiated in her crib by a dangerous family pet—an 8-foot-6-inch, 13-pound albino Burmese python
Two-year-old Shaianna Hare, who was asphyxiated
in her crib by a dangerous family pet—an 8-foot-6-inch,
13-pound albino Burmese python.
photo: Tampa Bay Online

While the details of this case are painful to hear, there is one fact that rang loud and clear: giant constrictor snakes should not be allowed as pets. Current anemic regulations on private possession of dangerous wild animals let people keep deadly predators in their basements, backyards and living rooms. There’s no good reason for individuals to keep these animals, and the outcome is inevitably disastrous—for the people who are put at risk, and for the wild animals themselves who are kept in unnatural settings that fail to meet their complex needs. Sadly, incidents involving large constrictor snakes are widespread. The Humane Society of the United States has tracked more than 200 constrictor snake incidents throughout the country, including 16 deaths and dozens injured.

In 2008, a Virginia woman was strangled while attempting to medicate her 13‐foot reticulated python. A 3-year-old Nevada boy was constricted to the point of unconsciousness by an 18-foot reticulated python in 2009. As the boy began turning blue, his mother stabbed the snake with a kitchen knife to free the child. In 2008, a teenager woke from a nap with her father’s Burmese python biting and coiling around her. Her father cut off the snake’s head to free her and rushed her to the hospital.

The Obama administration can prevent tragedies like these by immediately finalizing a rule proposed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list nine species of large constrictor snakes as “injurious” under the Lacey Act, which regulates trade in wildlife. The proposed regulations will prohibit importation and interstate movement of nine species of large snakes posing the greatest risks to public health and safety, animal welfare, and the environment.

These species of snakes can quickly grow very large, and their enclosures become too small and inadequate to prevent escape. A reticulated python can grow to be more than 30 feet long and weigh 250 pounds. A Burmese python can grow to be 20 feet long.

Python People often purchase wild animals, like snakes, when they are young and manageable, but there are very few options for placement when the animals grow too dangerous to handle and are no longer wanted. If the animals escape or are turned loose, they can threaten local habitats. Burmese pythons have colonized Everglades National Park—with an original group of snakes set loose by pet owners or escapees during a hurricane. These exotic predators are now wreaking havoc in this storied American national park, fighting with alligators and killing untold numbers of native animals for food.

The U.S. Geological Survey recently released a report documenting potential environmental harm from the trade in large constrictor snakes. The 300-page study should erase any doubt about whether these giant creatures belong in the pet trade. All nine species of large pythons, anacondas, and boa constrictors studied pose either medium or high risk to our natural resources. Three of the species are already reproducing in Florida, where “a very large number of imperiled species are at risk from giant constrictors.”

It can cost millions of dollars to eradicate invasive species and protect endangered species, and sometimes even that won’t put the cork back in the bottle. It’s much more humane and fiscally responsible to deal with the problem on the front end through prevention. 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 of these snakes is overwhelming.

In 2010, Florida wisely passed a law, sponsored by Sen. Eleanor Sobel (D-Hollywood) and Rep. Trudi Williams (R-Ft. Myers), making it illegal to breed, sell or keep most large constrictor snakes as pets. The federal government should act without delay and follow suit. It’s time to implement a national policy to prevent even more tragedy.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Taking the Profit Out of Animal Fighting

Over the last decade, The HSUS and HSLF have worked with Congress several times to strengthen the federal law to combat dogfighting and cockfighting, closing loopholes on commerce in fighting birds and weapons attached to them, upgrading the penalties for all animal fighting to a felony offense, and barring the possession and training of fighting animals. But there is still one particular deficiency in the federal law: While 49 states (all but Montana) make it a crime to attend an animal fight, with 27 having felony penalties for spectators, there is no federal prohibition to address the people who allow this criminal enterprise to thrive with their admission fees and gambling wagers.

Dogsfighting We hope that will soon change, as U.S. Reps. Tom Marino, R-Pa., and Betty Sutton, D-Ohio, this week introduced H.R. 2492, the Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act, to close this gaping loophole and stop the cruel people who fuel this criminal industry. Their bill would prohibit knowing attendance at organized animal fights and impose additional penalties for causing a minor to attend such events. Just last night, CBS 42 aired exclusive undercover video footage of cockfights in Central Alabama, showing young children ringside and illustrating what a problem this is.

Like any underground crime, dogfighting and cockfighting only thrive because people spend money on it. And these individuals don’t walk into a bar on Main Street and accidentally stumble across a dogfight. They knowingly seek out the criminal activity at clandestine locations, and they often quietly whisper secret passwords to enter. They pay hundreds or thousands of dollars in admission fees and gambling bets, generating the bulk of the revenue for this illegal enterprise. And they provide cover for dogfighters and cockfighters, who blend into crowds at the first sign of a police raid to evade prosecution.

As Rep. Marino said in introducing the bill, “As a former state and federal prosecutor, I’ve seen first-hand the criminal culture that surrounds animal fighting events and the damaging influence this environment has on our children. We try to protect our kids from criminal violence and yet there is no safeguard for those adults who take impressionable children to animal fights where they can witness these heinous acts in person. I introduced this legislation to make sure that law enforcement has all of the tools necessary to deprive the organizers and profiteers of these horrific events from receiving the support they need to continue this activity.”

Rep. Sutton added, “Animal fighting is a horrible and barbaric activity, and by making it a federal crime for individuals to knowingly attend these events or bring minors to them, we will make tremendous strides in putting an end to it once and for all. I am proud to stand with Members from both sides of the aisle and look forward to passing this common-sense, humane legislation.”
Congress should act swiftly to pass this bill and crack down on the entire cast of characters involved in animal fighting. The spectators are not innocent bystanders—they are willing participants in organized crime who are there for their own amusement and gambling profits and because they are titillated by the bloodletting. Take away the spectators and you take away the profit. Our laws should be tough enough to stop people from financing the torture of animals.

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