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December 2018

Friday, December 21, 2018

What does a government shutdown mean for animals?

This week, the Senate passed a bill that would have funded the federal agencies whose budgets are not yet resolved (including the USDA and Department of Interior) through February 8th. But disagreements with the President and some members of Congress produced no path forward, and now, unless the full Congress and the White House reach a new agreement to fund federal operations, a partial government shutdown is set to begin at midnight tonight.

Capitol
iStock Photo

During a shutdown, “non-essential” federal workers are furloughed (placed on temporary leave) while some “essential” operations continue. Because many federal agencies run programs that directly affect animals, a shutdown can have varied effects. This last happened in 2013 and then as now, there were both positive and negative results for our work. Here’s an overview from our perspective:

National Parks
If you’re planning a trip over the coming holidays to see wildlife in one our nation’s amazing national parks, you may want to reschedule. While some national parks are set to remain open, the National Park Service (NPS) will not be able to provide visitor services—including maintaining visitor centers, restrooms, and garbage cleanup. NPS has noted, however, that if access becomes a safety or resource protection issue that endangers humans or wildlife, the area of the park in question must be closed during the shutdown.

Wild horses and burros
The Bureau of Land Management considers employees who manage wild horses and burros at government holding facilities essential, so plans are in place to feed and care for the more than 50,000 wild horses and burros in short and long-term holding facilities. Scheduled removals of wild horses and burros currently on our public rangelands will likely not proceed until the shutdown has ended, a win for animals since those “gathers” are cruel and land them in long-term holding pens. 

National Wildlife Refuges
National Wildlife Refuges will likely close throughout the shutdown. However, it’s good to know that the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) considers law enforcement staff members at refuges “essential” employees. In its contingency plans, FWS states that in the event of a shutdown, all federal wildlife officers of the National Wildlife Refuge System will be essential, as will conservation officers and wildlife inspectors.

Animals in research facilities, puppy mills, zoos, and circuses
USDA’s Animal Care division is charged with ensuring that minimum standards of care and treatment are provided by entities regulated under the Animal Welfare Act, including research facilities, commercial dog breeders and dealers, and exhibitors of exotic animals. Without federal government funding, USDA will not be able to inspect these facilities or bring enforcement actions in the case of facilities that are violating the Act. This means that puppy mills, laboratories, roadside zoos, and others could use the shutdown period to cut corners without fear of getting caught. Fortunately, some Animal Care employees will be placed “on call” to review complaints and  to determine if a response is warranted during the shutdown.

Tennessee Walking Horses
USDA’s Animal Care division is also responsible for promoting fair competition at events covered by the Horse Protection Act to ensure that Tennessee Walking Horses and related breeds are not subjected to the abusive practice of soring. While USDA’s contingency plans do not directly address activities under the Horse Protection Act, it is likely that federal inspections will not be conducted at horse shows, giving sorers essentially free reign.

Wildlife Services
During the shutdown, the majority of USDA’s Wildlife Services staff would be furloughed, which would provide a brief reprieve for the thousands of animals killed yearly by the program. However, some Wildlife Services employees funded by cooperative agreements with private entities and state governments will continue to work.

The Wildlife Services program focuses on addressing conflicts with wild animals that cause economic harm or threaten human or animal health and safety. For decades, this program has relied on lethal control. It has provided a hefty federal subsidy for livestock owners and ranchers by relentlessly killing animals such as coyotes, wolves, bears, and mountain lions using cruel methods. One concern, which our organization expressed during the 2013 government shutdown, was the potential for prolonged suffering by those animals caught in traps that may not be checked by furloughed employees.

Wildlife Services also provides services to airports throughout the country to control wildlife populations that may impact airline travel. The USDA contingency plans state that employees who are engaged in transportation safety functions are exempted from the shutdown, so these programs will continue.

Humane slaughter
According to the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Program’s contingency plans, employees who inspect meat, poultry, and egg products are essential employees and will work throughout the shutdown. Employees who manage these programs at FSIS headquarters will be furloughed, though they will be on call to support the inspection program. The contingency plans do not appear to consider how humane handling violations will be addressed if they occur. As a result, a shutdown could mean that humane slaughter violations go unaddressed, leading to unrelieved suffering.

While there are a few bright spots for animals from a shutdown, having the agencies described here largely out of commission will generally mean even weaker oversight. This is already a serious problem at USDA. We hope that the shutdown, if there is one, is short, and that the federal government gets back to work again soon.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Farm Bill: Mission accomplished!

The 2018 Farm Bill has now been signed into law by President Trump—most importantly without the odious King amendment—which makes this a banner day for our animal protection work. Stopping Rep. Steve King (R-IA) from hooking his massive power grab—to nullify state and local laws addressing animal welfare concerns—onto the package has been our top priority. To succeed, we marshaled a broad-based coalition of more than 220 groups to oppose it. And that strategy worked. 

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Jean Chung/For HSI

We never doubted that the King amendment would fall out as long as we could shine enough light on just how overreaching it was, but we didn’t take it for granted. If you were one of the many supporters and advocates who took action on this, we thank you. There was a lot at stake, but you came through. And together, we’ve done the whole nation a favor, because King’s amendment would have threatened more than just measures passed in the states concerning confinement of farm animals, shark finning, puppy mills, horse slaughter, and the like. It would also have jeopardized state and local laws focused on a vast sweep of social concerns including food safety, child labor, opioids, pesticide exposure, fire-safe cigarettes, and more.

Since the Farm Bill functions as an omnibus vehicle, we also worked full-tilt to see three animal protection measures incorporated into the final version. Each had been the subject of free-standing legislation for which we advocated and helped build overwhelming bipartisan support via leadership and cosponsorships. For over a year we’ve been working behind the scenes to secure their inclusion. And that worked too.

One of the measures bans domestic slaughter, trade, and import/export of dogs and cats for human consumption, which was until now only illegal in six states. This legislation prevents any possibility that the dog and cat meat industry can take root in our nation, and it strengthens our standing to press other countries to end their dog and cat meat trade. This will reinforce the voice and the hand of our sister group, Humane Society International, and others working on this issue around the globe. Countries such as Taiwan, Thailand, and the Philippines have already enacted similar prohibitions, and earlier this year the U.S. House passed a landmark resolution urging other nations to do the same.

Another provision extends federal domestic violence protections to include pets at risk. Abusers often exploit their human victims’ attachment to their pets, and the animals become victims in their own right, along with the people trying to protect them. This measure builds on laws already enacted by 32 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico allowing the inclusion of pets in domestic violence protection orders, thereby ensuring protections throughout the country. It also authorizes grants to provide housing assistance for survivors with pets—a desperately needed resource as only 3 percent of domestic violence shelters currently accommodate pets or help arrange pet shelter. Again, we mobilized a broad consortium of domestic violence, law enforcement, veterinary, animal welfare organizations, and pet product companies in support of this legislation.

The third provision clarifies that our federal prohibitions on dogfighting and cockfighting apply across every jurisdiction, including in all U.S. territories. This marks the fourth consecutive Farm Bill in which we have strengthened the federal animal fighting law, which was first enacted in 1976. It will protect animals from vicious cruelty, communities from associated criminal activity such as drug trafficking and gangs, and the public and food supply from transmission of bird flu and other diseases.  

When you support the Humane Society Legislative Fund, you do so with the expectation that we’ll put ourselves right at the heart of the action on Capitol Hill, to secure the best possible outcomes for animals. Thanks to you, we’ve succeeded. You are the vaunted “army of the kind” that the legendary author and animal advocate Cleveland Amory called upon to protect and defend the voiceless. We’re grateful, and we’re going to enter the New Year with confidence and the good feeling that when we bring the right constituencies together, we can make really great things happen in our work.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Breaking News: the final Farm Bill has been released and it’s great news for animals!

Update December 12, 2018: Great news! The Farm Bill passed its key test today with flying colors. The House approved the package by a whopping bipartisan 369-47 vote. With yesterday’s 87-13 approval in the Senate, it now heads to President Trump. We call on him to swiftly sign the Farm Bill into law to put to rest the disastrous King amendment that could have gutted countless state and local laws protecting animals and consumers, and to enact three key animal protection provisions—PAWS to protect pets and families from domestic violence, PACE to strengthen animal fighting law, and the Dog and Cat Meat Trade ban.

Thanks again to the leaders of the Senate and House Agriculture Committees, Sens. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Reps. Mike Conaway (R-Texas) and Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), for putting together this package that garnered such strong bipartisan support! Praise also to the sponsors of the pro-animal measures, those who pressed to keep out the King amendment, all who voted for the package this week, House and Senate leadership for getting it done, and especially to all the people who contacted their legislators over the past many months to make the case for animals!

Update December 11, 2018: The Senate has approved the 2018 Farm Bill by a vote of 87-13! That means we are one step closer to stopping the King amendment and passing three critical pro-animal welfare bills into law—a truly historic moment for animals. We applaud the Senate for moving quickly to approve this solid package and urge the House to do the same.

For the last year and a half, we have worked hard for the inclusion of key protections for animals in the Farm Bill, and today the Senate and House Agriculture Committees released a final version that rewards our effort.

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Photo by iStock.com

Above all, because of our resistance, the package excludes the disastrous amendment tacked onto the House Farm Bill in committee by Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa). We marshaled opposition to the King amendment from a diverse coalition of more than 220 groups across the political spectrum, 119 Representatives led by Reps. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.) and Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), and 32 Senators led by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.). The King Amendment threatened countless duly-enacted state and local laws, including laws addressing horse and dog meat, extreme confinement of farm animals, shark finning, and puppy mills, as well as a range of concerns such as food safety, child labor, opioids, pesticide exposure, fire-safe cigarettes, manure management, and handling of diseased livestock.

The legislation also includes language incorporating the content of three animal protection bills we’ve long supported:

  • Pet and Women Safety (PAWS) Act introduced by Sens. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) and Dean Heller (R-Nev.) and Reps. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), Rick Nolan (D-Minn.), Jeff Denham (R-Calif.), Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), and Mimi Walters (R-Calif.). The provision, championed by Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) and Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) in the Senate version of the Farm Bill will extend current federal domestic violence protections to include pets. It also authorizes grant money to help domestic violence shelters accommodate pets (only three percent currently allow pets) or arrange for pet shelter. The measure enjoyed the support of a broad network of domestic violence, law enforcement, veterinary, and animal welfare organizations.

  • Dog and Cat Meat Prohibition Act introduced by Reps. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.), Buchanan, Dave Trott (R-Mich.), and Brendan Boyle (D-Pa.). The provision, championed by Denham in the House bill and Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Patrick Toomey (R-Pa.) in the Senate bill, will prevent this appalling trade from taking hold in the U.S. and strengthen our hand in seeking to end it worldwide. Around 30 million dogs and untold numbers of cats are the victims of this brutal industry globally every year, with animals often snatched off the street or stolen from loving families, still wearing collars, and finally subjected to unspeakable abuse only to end up on someone’s dinner plate. 

  • Parity in Animal Cruelty Enforcement (PACE) Act introduced by Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Reps. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.), Blumenauer, Rodney Davis (R-Ill.), Rick Nolan (D-Minn.), Kevin Yoder (R-Kan.), Tony Cárdenas (D-Calif.), Steve Knight (R-Calif.), Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), and Buchanan. The amendment clarifies the point that federal prohibitions against dogfighting and cockfighting activity apply to all U.S. jurisdictions, including U.S. territories, and will protect animals from vicious cruelty, insulate communities against associated criminal activity such as drug trafficking and gang violence, and safeguard the public and food supply from disease transmission.

We commend Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Roberts and Ranking Member Stabenow and House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway (R-Texas) and Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) for reaching this strong bipartisan agreement

We couldn’t have achieved these wins without the faithful efforts of thousands of advocates across the nation who called, emailed, and met with their legislators, wrote letters to the editor, and spread the word in their communities. But the fight isn’t over yet—now we need to do our best to get this bill across the finish line. The House and Senate are expected to vote on the package soon and approval is far from guaranteed.  Please click here to contact your U.S. Representative and two U.S. Senators today to urge that they support the 2018 Farm Bill.

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

Mission Complete: As a nation mourns George H.W. Bush, his dog Sully transitions to new service

We at the Humane Society Legislative Fund were saddened by the passing of George H.W. Bush, our nation’s 41st president, and we’re thankful for his extraordinary service to the United States. In this remarkable week of national mourning and celebration, it was naturally and deeply moving for us to see public fascination fix so heavily on a photograph of the late president’s service dog Sully, at the watch, in front of the casket. This image is destined to become an iconic remembrance of the late president’s loyalty and faithfulness as a public servant.

Sully-blog
Sully keeping vigil by late President George H. W.
Bush’s casket.

And that’s as it should be. For many years, the pets kept by members of the Bush family have been in the national spotlight. Barbara Bush’s dog Millie was the “author” of a children’s book that described a day in the life of the Bush family in the White House, complete with briefings, Oval Office deliberations, and other activities. And just two years ago, the second President Bush, George W., with his wife Laura, adopted a dog from the SPCA of Texas, showing their public support for adoption as the best option.

It gave us satisfaction to learn that Sully will now transition to further service at Walter Reed Army Hospital, where his special talents and personal characteristics can now benefit still more veterans. We’re sure that this would have pleased the late president, who knew combat at first hand, who understood the gravity of our sending men and women into battle, and who had the strongest possible commitment to those who serve.

In recent years, we’ve supported several congressional bills to further the training and placement of service dogs with veterans. These bills have generally sought to establish a grants program to support the work of non-governmental organizations involved in training and providing dogs for pairing with individual veterans suffering from PTSD and other conditions. One of the measures advanced calls for a Veterans Administration pilot program to evaluate the effectiveness of service dog programs serving military veterans, at five VA medical centers.

We’ve also seen some allocations for training of dogs within FY18 and FY19 appropriations. The FY18 Omnibus package included $10 million for Therapeutic Service Dog Training within the Department of Defense Wounded Warrior Service Dog Program that awards grants to nonprofits providing therapeutic service dogs to veterans and active duty personnel facing physical injuries and emotional scars from their military service, including post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury, blindness, loss of limb, and paralysis. The package also provided $1 million increase for Equine-Assisted Therapy under the Veterans Affairs’ Adaptive Sports grant program for veterans suffering from mental health issues including PTSD.

With respect to FY19 Appropriations, Congress continued to show its support, providing another $10 million for FY19 for the Wounded Warrior Service Dog program. With respect to Equine Therapy, Congress further directed the VA to allocate $1.5 million of the Adaptive Sports program funding to boost grants for the purpose of equine therapy targeted to mental health issues

When it comes to bringing veterans and animals together, we’re for it, emphatically, and we hope and expect to support such legislation in the new congress. We’d like to see officials consolidate approaches to this topic, on a thoughtful and strong bi-partisan basis, because we think this would strengthen chances of action.

We believe the need for such programs is great. And what a tribute it would be to the memory of the late president were the Congress to approve and implement more such legislation in the next session.

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