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March 2013

Friday, March 22, 2013

The 700 Club

The animal protection movement hit a major marker this week, with 700 new animal protection laws enacted in the states since 2005. Two bills signed into law in New Mexico—allowing the purchase of protective equipment for police dogs and the adoption of the dogs after their retirement—ushered in the 699th and 700th new state policies during that time period.
Dog_pbtt_red_270x224Since the launch of the Humane Society Legislative Fund in 2005, we and our partners, including The HSUS, Doris Day Animal League, and state and local animal welfare groups around the country, have helped to reshape the legal landscape for animal protection in the states. Dogfighting is now a felony in all 50 states, and cockfighting is illegal in all 50 and a felony in 40. All but one state (Montana) have criminal penalties for animal fighting spectators, all but two (North Dakota and South Dakota) have felony-level penalties for malicious animal cruelty, and all but three (New York, Texas, and West Virginia) make it a felony to possess fighting dogs. All but six states (Alabama, Nevada, North Carolina, South Carolina, West Virginia, and Wisconsin) now restrict the private ownership of dangerous wildlife such as big cats, primates, wolves, bears, and venomous snakes, to one degree or another, to protect public safety and the animals themselves who are caught up in the trade. Seventeen states require the addition of a bittering agent in antifreeze and engine coolant to prevent the poisoning of animals, and this lawmaking led to a voluntary agreement with the industry to change the sweet-tasting product nationwide.
We are marching forward to close the gaps in the legal framework where they exist, and increase the penalties and provide additional tools for law enforcement. Hundreds of new laws have been passed to protect pets and service animals, help animal shelters, crack down on abuses at large-scale commercial puppy mills, and protect wildlife and equines. And issues that were perceived as very difficult just eight years ago, such as improving the treatment of animals on industrial factory farms, are making progress as well: Nine states (Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Maine, Michigan, Ohio, Oregon, and Rhode Island) now ban the extreme confinement of breeding pigs in metal gestation cages where they can’t turn around for virtually their entire lives, and four (California, New Jersey, Ohio, and Rhode Island) ban the practice of dairy cow tail-docking, the routine and painful amputation of cows’ tails. 
More issues are on the move this year, and just yesterday, the New Jersey Assembly overwhelmingly approved A. 3250 to ban gestation crates, by a vote of 60 to 5. The bill now goes to the Senate for concurrence and then to Gov. Chris Christie, and if enacted, will make New Jersey the tenth state to address this abusive pork industry practice. This week, the West Virginia Senate Natural Resources Committee passed S.B. 466 to ban dangerous wild animals as pets—moving the state one step closer in cracking down on this unregulated practice. This morning, the Maryland House Environmental Matters Committee passed H.B. 1148 to ban the trade in shark fins—a critical step toward Maryland becoming the first Atlantic state to join California, Hawaii, Illinois, Oregon, and Washington in cracking down on the brutal practice of cutting off sharks’ fins at sea and leaving them to die slow and painful deaths for shark fin soup. Other priority bills that lawmakers will consider this year including banning toxic lead ammunition that poisons wildlife and the environment in California, prohibiting hound hunting and trapping of bears in Maine, and protecting dogs and their families from a dangerous policy that discriminates against pit bulls in Maryland.

We are blocking policies that harm animals, too: We and our coalition partners with Keep Michigan Wolves Protected are preparing to submit more than 225,000 signatures of Michigan voters to qualify for the statewide ballot and repeal the legislature’s authorization of a sport hunting and trapping season on wolves, a species just beginning to recover from the brink of extinction.
Join us in celebrating this milestone for animal protection policymaking, and help usher in more laws to prevent cruelty and abuse, by contacting your state lawmakers today.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Progress for Animals Throughout the States

Yesterday was a remarkable day in state legislatures across the country, with a number of key animal protection bills moving forward through critical stages of the legislative process.

In New Jersey, the Assembly Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee approved A. 3250, sponsored by Assemblyman Gilbert “Whip” Wilson, D-Camden, to phase out the extreme confinement of breeding pigs in gestation crates. These metal cages confine sows during their entire pregnancies, and are so restrictive they cannot even turn around or stretch their limbs for months on end. Companion legislation, S. 1921 by Senator Raymond Lesniak, D-Union, has already passed the Senate, and if it’s enacted into law, New Jersey will become the tenth state to end gestation crate confinement.

Gestation crateTwin sisters and high school students Abigail and Elizabeth Fournier testified at the committee hearing in favor of the bill, telling lawmakers, “There are clear psychological and physical effects for pigs in these gestation creates. Studies prove that pigs that are kept in gestation crates suffer from a decrease in muscle weight, bone density, and bone strength. These pigs will also engage in an activity called ‘bar-biting’ which are repeated mouthing movements on the metal bars of the crates. There are much better alternatives than keeping pigs in gestation crates. One option is group housing, which allows pigs to be social and move freely.”
The Assembly Judiciary Committee in the Garden State also approved A. 2379, sponsored by Assemblyman Gordon Johnson, D-Bergen, to allow the prosecution of dogfighting leaders under the racketeering law. The bill aims to give law enforcement additional tools needed to crack down on the kingpins who force dogs to fight to a violent and bloody death for entertainment and gambling.

In Colorado, the House Health, Insurance and Environment Committee passed H.B. 1231, sponsored by Representative Steve Lebsock, D-Thornton, by a vote of 6 to 5. The legislation would phase out the routine tail docking of dairy cows—the painful practice of cutting off the cow’s tail, often without anesthesia. Cows need their tails to protect themselves from flies, and cutting them off serves no scientific purpose or health benefit. Tail docking is opposed by the National Milk Producers Federation and the American Veterinary Medical Association, and has been banned in California, Ohio, New Jersey and Rhode Island.

In Minnesota, the Senate Environment and Energy Committee approved S.F. 666, sponsored by Senator Chris Eaton, DFL-Brooklyn Center, to place a five-year moratorium on wolf hunting. After a packed hearing with an overflow crowd of supporters and opponents of wolf hunting making their case to lawmakers, the panel passed the moratorium bill by a vote of 7 to 6. When wolves were stripped of their federal protections under the Endangered Species Act, Minnesota wildlife managers hostile to wolves hastily moved to allow trophy hunting and trapping of the rare creatures, resulting in the killing of 413 wolves during the state’s first season. A moratorium would give the wolf population a reprieve and prevent the state from resuming the very practices that drove the species to the brink of extinction in the first place.

There were some setbacks, as well: In Utah, the House of Representatives rejected S.B. 52 to increase the penalties for illegal cockfighting in the state. Utah is one of only ten states without felony-level penalties for cockfighting, making it a magnet for criminal animal fighters along with gambling and other associated crimes. Although the bill, sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake, passed the Senate by a vote of 19 to 9, it failed in the House by a vote of 28 to 39. We will be working with our partners at the Humane Society of Utah and other groups to get this important policy done in the future, and make sure animal fighters are punished with more than a slap on the wrist.

A number of new bills were introduced in the states this week, including efforts in Nevada, Texas, and West Virginia to crack down on the private ownership of dangerous wild animals such as big cats and primates. After two pet chimpanzees escaped in Las Vegas last year, one of whom was killed by police, there is increased momentum in the remaining states that have no restrictions on keeping dangerous wildlife as pets. In Texas, more than 100 advocates rallied at the state capitol—led by “Friday Night Lights” star Kyle Chandler and his 11-year-old daughter, Sawyer—urging passage of a bill to ban the trade in shark fin products and help protect shark populations from dramatic declines and brutal killing for shark fin soup.

So far in 2013, two measures have been enacted—an Arkansas animal care appropriation and a Kentucky resolution recognizing Spay Day—and another 19 have passed one or both chambers in their state legislatures. Please contact your state lawmakers and urge them to pass animal protection bills, and we will keep you posted on progress throughout the year.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

A Renewed Effort to Stop the Slaughter of American Horses

This morning at a Capitol Hill press conference, U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and U.S. Reps. Pat Meehan, R-Pa., and Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., joined animal welfare groups, equestrians, and veterinarians to announce the introduction of new federal legislation to prevent the slaughter and export of American horses for human consumption. Their legislation, S. 541 and H.R. 1094, the Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act, with Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., as an additional co-author, comes on the heels of a horsemeat scandal in Europe, which is a main market for tens of thousands of American horses killed and butchered every year and shipped overseas to foreign consumers.

HorseAt a time when the sequestration may lead to cutbacks on food safety inspections, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is considering the application of horse slaughter plants that want to open here on U.S. soil with federal inspectors. Why would we add a new expense and new program to the federal budget, just to support a marginal and predatory industry that gathers and kills horses from random sources, while furloughing inspectors who monitor the food actually consumed by American citizens?

Because American horses are icons and companion animals, and not raised for human consumption, they are given drugs and medications throughout their lifetimes that are never intended for the food system—ranging from common painkillers such as “bute” for treating ailing or lame horses, to cocaine and cobra venom and other forms of “doping” in the horseracing industry. There is currently no system in the U.S. to track medications and veterinary treatments given to horses to ensure that their meat is safe for human consumption, and it’s a free-for-all when this tainted and contaminated meat is shipped to unsuspecting diners.

Additionally, if horse slaughter plants are opened in the U.S., it will be more difficult to prevent this kind of comingling between horsemeat and beef products that has occurred in Europe. There has never been more urgency in passing this long overdue legislation, to protect tens of thousands of companion animals from a grisly death, and to prevent the meat from drugged-up horses from ending up in our grocery stores and cafeterias. Please contact your members of Congress today and urge them to support S. 541 and H.R. 1094.

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