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February 2019

Thursday, February 14, 2019

A budget deal has been reached, and it's good news for animals

After months of negotiations, and the longest shutdown in United States history, a deal has emerged for funding to cover all the remaining federal agencies whose Fiscal Year 2019 budgets have been in limbo. While the package has been agreed to by key House and Senate negotiators, it still has to clear some hurdles. We are hopeful that this turning point shows that Congress stands united, and that President Trump will sign the bill into law. Although earlier appropriations bills in the House and Senate contained worrisome provisions and excluded important protections for animals, we are happy to report that the final version has resolved many of those problems.

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Jennifer Kunz/Duchess Sanctuary

The Humane Society Legislative Fund worked with animal protection champions in both chambers and with other stakeholders to secure these key outcomes:

Maintaining the ban on horse slaughter: The bill prohibits government spending on horse slaughter inspections, which effectively bans horse slaughter in the United States for human consumption. This language has been in place in almost every year’s budget since 2005, and was initially secured in the FY19 Senate version of the bill.

Protecting wild horses and burros: The bill prevents the Bureau of Land Management and its contractors from sending wild horses and burros to slaughter, and from killing excess healthy horses and burros. In addition, the bill leaves out harmful language contained in the House version of the bill to launch a program of mass surgical sterilization—a procedure which research has yet to prove can be conducted humanely. The conferees have requested that the BLM provide them with an updated humane management plan within 180 days, and that the agency include in its fiscal year 2020 budget request an outline of its proposed strategy and the funding necessary for implementation.

Preserving ESA protections for gray wolves: The bill omits an assault on gray wolves contained in the original House version of the bill. If enacted, it would have directed the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to remove Endangered Species Act protections from wolves in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin, remove Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections from wolves in the entire contiguous 48 states, and barred judicial review of those actions and of the 2012 removal from the ESA of gray wolves in Wyoming.

Allowing grizzly bear recovery: The bill excludes a provision contained in the House version which strove to block funding for the reintroduction of grizzly bears to the North Cascades Ecosystem in Washington State. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Park Service released an environmental impact statement in 2015 to launch the reintroduction process, which former U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke endorsed in March 2018. Instead, the conferees have directed FWS and NPS to re-open the public comment period regarding the draft environmental impact statement with proposed alternatives for the restoration of grizzly bears to the North Cascades Ecosystem—and to work with ranchers, conservation groups, local governments, and other local partners to reduce conflicts between grizzly bears and livestock, drawing upon lessons learned with the Wolf Livestock Loss Demonstration Program to improve conservation outcomes while limiting effects to agricultural producers.

Oversight of farm animals used in research: In 2015, the New York Times brought to light terrible abuses of farm animals at a USDA Agricultural Research Service facility in Nebraska, the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center. Congress responded forcefully with directives to USDA to begin inspecting these facilities for animal welfare compliance and providing quarterly reports to the Appropriations Committees.This bill includes harsh criticism of USDA’s progress reports, noting that “ARS did not report a single specific negative finding by APHIS inspectors, despite the fact that numerous violations have been found involving the death of numerous animals and serious health issues of many more. The failure to report these problems to the Committees is unacceptable. The conferees direct ARS to submit a single report covering all violations found by APHIS to date and the specific actions taken to prevent them from recurring within 60 days of enactment.”

Animal testing alternatives: The omnibus sustains level funding of $21.41 million (rejecting a $4.2 million cut proposed by the President) for the Environmental Protection Agency’s Computational Toxicology program to develop replacements for traditional animal tests, as required in the 2016 reauthorization of the Toxic Substances Control Act.

Class B random source dealers: The bill contains the same language as in the past few years prohibiting the USDA from licensing Class B random source dealers, who are notorious for keeping dogs and cats in awful conditions and obtaining them through fraudulent means such as pet theft to sell them to research facilities. Our colleagues at the Animal Welfare Institute have led this fight.

USDA data purge: Following bipartisan expressions of outrage, the House Committee Report (in a provision deemed adopted in the final package) directed the U.S. Department of Agriculture to restore inspection reports and enforcement records for horse shows, puppy mills, roadside zoos, laboratories, and other facilities which were purged from the agency’s website in February 2017.

Providing needed funding: The bill provides a $500,000 increase for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to enforce the Animal Welfare Act and a $500,000 boost in a veterinary services grant program. It sustains funding for other key accounts including enforcement of the Horse Protection Act, Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, and federal animal fighting law, as well as for programs to address the needs of animals in disasters, encourage veterinarians to locate in underserved areas, support the Marine Mammal Commission’s crucial work, and crack down on international wildlife trafficking.

The omnibus package is not perfect. For example, it renews a harmful provision that blocks the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating toxic lead content in ammunition and fishing tackle, which poisons and kills wildlife. But overall, the Humane Society Legislative Fund is very happy that Congress has taken a stand on so many important animal protection issues. We look forward to working with the 116th Congress to ensure these protections are maintained and to build on them with additional vital measures.

Thursday, February 07, 2019

Bill in Congress will require puppy mills, roadside zoos, and other businesses to have emergency plans to protect animals during disasters

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

Weather-related disasters such as floods and wildfires are occurring more frequently and with increasing intensity across the United States. While there is a federal law that requires state and local authorities to consider household pets and service animals in their disaster contingency plans, it doesn’t address hundreds of thousands of animals held in American businesses, institutions and enterprises, specifically those in puppy mills, research facilities, zoos, circuses and aquariums regulated under the Animal Welfare Act (AWA). A bipartisan bill introduced in Congress today will remedy that by requiring all such enterprises to create emergency response plans for the animals in their care, so that they are not simply abandoned when disaster strikes.

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JP Bonnelly/The HSUS

The Providing Emergency Plans for Animals at Risk of Emerging Disasters (PREPARED) Act, H.R. 1042, is championed by Reps. Dina Titus, D-Nev., and Peter King, R-N.Y. It would require facilities that are regulated under the AWA to submit annual plans to the U.S. Department of Agriculture that identify emergency situations, including natural disasters, power outages and animal escapes, and outline specific tasks to respond to these emergencies. Plans need to include instructions for evacuating the animals, shelter-in-place, provision of backup food and water, sanitation, ventilation, bedding and veterinary care.

In 2001, more than 34,400 animals, including 78 monkeys, 35 dogs and 300 rabbits, died when Tropical Storm Allison flooded the University of Texas Medical Center. That facility, located along one of Houston’s largest bayous, housed more than half of its research animals underground. Sadly, the same mistake was repeated when New York University began construction on a research building one year later and located the animals in the basement; thousands of mice drowned there from Hurricane Sandy’s storm surge in 2012.

In 2006, with our urging, Congress enacted the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards (PETS) Act, after an estimated 600,000 animals were abandoned during Hurricane Katrina. Some people refused to evacuate and lost their lives because they couldn’t bear to abandon their pets. The PETS Act required state and local authorities to take into account—and to plan for—the needs of individuals with household pets and service animals before, during and after a disaster, but it did not cover commercially owned animals.

The PREPARED Act would do more than simply benefit animals. It would also reduce the burden on first responders, the local community and nongovernmental entities involved with rescue efforts after a disaster. For example, in 2008, the Culpepper & Merriweather Circus in Kansas ignored four days of severe tornado warnings by the National Weather Service to keep two elephants outside, giving rides to the public. When a tornado hit, equipment fell on one of the animals. A handler was thrown from an elephant and injured, and the traumatized animals bolted and were loose for hours.

The 2014 Farm Bill directed the USDA to create an exemption from the AWA for people with only a few non-dangerous animals, noting that this would enable the agency to swiftly adopt a requirement for emergency contingency plans by AWA-regulated facilities. That exemption was finalized in June last year, so there is no reason for further delay on requiring the emergency plans.

We know firsthand the difficulties of providing care for thousands of animals after a significant disaster. Each year, the HSUS Animal Rescue Team spends hundreds of hours and hundreds of thousands of dollars to assist with rescuing and caring for animals during hurricane season and in the aftermath of other catastrophes, natural and manmade. The four animal care centers, operated by our affiliates the Fund for Animals and the South Florida Wildlife Center, all have disaster plans in place. The PREPARED Act is a win-win for everyone: by creating contingency plans for the animals in their care, businesses can safeguard their investments, reassure the public and other stakeholders that they are protecting the animals in their care, and prevent catastrophic outcomes for dependent animals. Congress should enact this commonsense reform quickly.

Kitty Block is President and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States and President of Humane Society International, the international affiliate of The HSUS.

Wednesday, February 06, 2019

Bipartisan bill in Congress will crack down on puppy mill cruelty

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

A bipartisan group of U.S. Representatives today introduced a bill to crack down on puppy mill cruelty by closing loopholes in the law that allow problem breeders with severe and multiple Animal Welfare Act violations to continue doing business as usual. The Welfare of Our Friends (WOOF) Act, reintroduced by U.S. Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., Charlie Crist, D-Fla., Glenn Thompson, R-Pa., and Jim McGovern, D-Mass, has the potential to improve the welfare of thousands of dogs and puppies bred and sold each year by federally licensed commercial breeders.

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Photo by Shutterstock

At present, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, tasked with licensing and inspecting certain businesses that use animals, routinely relicenses puppy breeders with dozens of severe violations on their records, including dead and dying animals who didn’t receive adequate veterinary care, underweight animals and animals kept in filthy and unsafe conditions. Problem dealers whose licenses have been suspended or revoked can also essentially obtain a new license under the name of a family member while owning the same animals on the same property.

For years, the Humane Society of the United States has exposed this disregard for the law and the need to close these loopholes in their annual Horrible Hundred reports on problem puppy mills in the United States, which is compiled from USDA and state inspection data. For instance, their researchers found that a breeding facility in Seneca, Kansas, has been operating for decades under the names of several different family members at the same location. Documented violations of the Animal Welfare Act at that facility included limping dogs, dogs with open wounds, underweight dogs with their backbones and hips protruding, and dogs found outside in the frigid cold without adequate protection from the weather.

We already know that allowing problem puppy mills to operate can have far-reaching and devastating consequences, not only for the animals but also for humans. In September 2018, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study linked a disease outbreak caused by an antibiotic resistant strain of campylobacter, a disease-causing bacterium, to numerous commercial dog breeding facilities. That outbreak led to 118 people in 18 states falling ill, including many who were hospitalized. The WOOF Act will help prevent such epidemics by requiring that a dealer pass inspection, which includes meeting veterinary care and sanitation rules, before the USDA issues or renews their license. It will also help protect families from unknowingly buying sick puppies.

Our nation has a puppy mill problem, and the Humane Society Legislative Fund and the Humane Society of the United States are working to bring high-volume puppy producers to heel. Our federal and state legislative and regulatory teams, attorneys, puppy mills campaign staff, investigative team, and our Animal Rescue Team attack this problem from every angle, whether it’s reaching consumers through education, working with pet supply stores, taking unscrupulous online puppy sellers to court, collaborating with responsible breeders and other stakeholders, helping pass state and federal laws and regulations, saving animals from terrible situations in puppy mills, conducting undercover investigations, or raising awareness about puppy mills through the annual Horrible Hundred report.

By stopping problem dealers, the WOOF Act will ensure that those who abuse animals do not get to profit by them. We thank Reps. Fitzpatrick, Crist, Thompson, and McGovern for introducing this important bill. When the WOOF Act was introduced late in the last Congress with similar language, it garnered 167 co-sponsors in the House, and we are extremely hopeful that support will further grow this year. You can help by contacting your U.S. Representative today. Ask them to cosponsor the WOOF Act and help end the scourge of puppy mills.

Kitty Block is President and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States and President of Humane Society International, the international affiliate of The HSUS.

Tuesday, February 05, 2019

The state of the animal union under the Trump administration

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

As President Donald Trump prepares to deliver his State of the Union address tonight, it’s a good time to take stock of how his administration has dealt with animal protection issues of interest to us at the Humane Society Legislative Fund and the Humane Society of the United States.

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Photo by RamiroMarquezPhotos/iStock.com

President Trump has expressed his personal distaste for trophy hunting—to his credit—but in the past two years, we have also seen aggressive moves by the Department of the Interior and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to undo years of work done by previous administrations to save wildlife at risk of extinction globally and in Alaska. Moreover, the government has made blatant handouts to trophy hunters. The animal protection field has also had to grapple with a U.S. Department of Agriculture blackout of important information that groups like ours and the American public rely upon to ensure animals are not suffering.

On balance, it would be fair to say that the impact of federal agencies over the past two years on animal protection has been more negative than positive. Some of the areas where we saw the Trump administration fail include:

  • The blackout of thousands of Animal Welfare Act and Horse Protection Act inspection and enforcement records from the U.S. Department of Agriculture website, making it harder for Americans to learn which puppy mills, roadside zoos, and research facilities, among other enterprises, are failing to comply with animal protection laws. The USDA has also cut back drastically on the number of warnings, official complaints, and license revocations it applies to the worst puppy mills and other Animal Welfare Act violators.
  • Former Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke illegally established the “International Wildlife Conservation Council,” an advisory panel stacked with people who have an interest in killing or importing rare and endangered animals from overseas. The administration also lifted the import ban on Zimbabwe elephant and lion trophies.
  • Last year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service proposed weakening the Endangered Species Act, creating additional roadblocks to securing comprehensive protections for threatened species, and to make the process of removing species from the ESA easier.
  • The Department of the Interior proposed rolling back an Obama-era regulation that banned some of the worst and most appalling hunting practices on 20 million acres of federal public lands in Alaska, including using artificial light to kill hibernating bears and their cubs, shooting wolf and coyote pups and mothers in their dens, using bait to attract brown and black bears, shooting vulnerable swimming caribou, and using dogs to hunt black bears. This, just after Congress revoked similar protections on 76 million acres of National Wildlife Refuge lands in Alaska in 2017.
  • The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed Yellowstone-area grizzly bears from the Endangered Species Act, and the Department of Justice committed funds for legal fights in the federal courts to make this administration action permanent.

We did see the Trump administration take some positive steps to help animals, including:

  • The National Park Service began work to augment the Isle Royale, Michigan, wolf population by introducing 20 to 30 wolves over a three-year period. New wolves will restore ecological balance to Isle Royale’s ecosystem.
  • The Food and Drug Administration pledged to conduct an independent, third-party investigation of the agency’s animal research programs, establishing a new Animal Welfare Council, and reaffirming its commitment to replacing, reducing, and refining animal studies by creating a road map with this focus.
  • The National Marine Fisheries Service designated critical habitat for the Main Hawaiian Islands insular false killer whale distinct population segment, although the area is smaller than many advocates had sought.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency released its strategic plan to promote the development and implementation of non-animal test methods.

We are also grateful that the USDA decided to abandon a proposal to outsource some inspections of puppy mills, roadside zoos and research laboratories to third-party inspectors. If implemented, the proposal would have essentially allowed these industries to police themselves and severely undermined protections for millions of animals.

As we look forward to 2019, we encourage the Trump administration to take necessary steps to prioritize transparency and to advance key animal welfare reforms, such as:

  • A proposed USDA rule to tighten licensing requirements for dog dealers and exhibitors, as well as strengthen requirements for dog dealers to provide basic care requirements.
  • A significant increase in the use of population growth suppression tools to manage wild horse and burro populations on our public rangelands. The Department of the Interior must also abandon past proposals to send wild horses and burros to slaughter.
  • Mitigating the harm being caused to the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale, including taking measures to reduce deadly entanglements in lobster gear and other trap/pot fisheries gear, and to reduce the risk of vessel strikes by imposing mandatory ship speed limits in additional areas of seasonal high use along the east coast.
  • Prioritizing the relocation of chimpanzees currently owned and supported by the federal government to the national sanctuary, Chimp Haven. The National Institutes of Health should also prioritize approaches to replacing animals in harmful research that not only represent the best available science, but could also prevent the suffering of millions of animals in laboratories each year.

Congress recently demonstrated that animal protection is a bipartisan value, with members from both sides of the aisle coming together to introduce bills to attack horse soring, horse slaughter, shark finning, and malicious animal cruelty. We hope that in the coming year, we will see more of an effort by the administration to work for, and not against, animals. Animal protection is an American value and most of us—Republicans and Democrats—do not want to see innocent creatures hurt or killed needlessly.

Kitty Block is President and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States and President of Humane Society International, the international affiliate of The HSUS.

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