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April 2019

Monday, April 29, 2019

Preventing the lethal control and slaughter of America’s wild horses and burros

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

In recent years, understanding our firm and absolute opposition to horse slaughter in the United States and to the cruelty and inefficiency of the Bureau of Land Management’s wild horse and burro work, frustrated members of Congress have been pressing the Humane Society of the United States and the Humane Society Legislative Fund to advance a solution-focused proposal. And now, with the ASPCA, Return to Freedom and other groups, we’ve done so.

B7AXXG_1__434999The facts are simple enough. The proposal we’ve put forth provides more humane approaches. Lethal control of horses and burros, whether by slaughter or mass killing, is not up for discussion -- instead, it’s expressly prohibited. The proposal also commits the government to advance fertility control initiatives, fund adoption efforts, and provide larger, more humane pasture facilities for horses and burros currently in holding facilities and taken off the range. As a result of the changes this proposal recommends, there will be no perpetual warehousing of horses and burros, no slaughter, and no more stalemate on the path towards long-term humane resolution of their plight.

Together, our two organizations were among the primary architects of the Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act, to ban horse slaughter in the United States and halt the export of American horses for slaughter abroad, and we are among its strongest current backers. We’ve drawn a hard line in fighting to include language in federal spending bills that defunds horse slaughter for human consumption in the United States, by denying funds for USDA inspection of horse slaughterhouses. We will continue to push for passage of the SAFE Act, and fight for language to defund horse slaughter for human consumption whenever and wherever necessary.

Over the past decade, we have filed and won multiple lawsuits to block horse slaughter, and to hold BLM accountable for its duties to wild horses under federal law. Along with other horse advocates, we are currently suing to block the federal government from selling wild horses directly to killer buyers who want to ship American horses out of the country for human consumption.

The issue of horse slaughter is not limited to the United States, and we are engaged at the international level as well. Following the 2013 horsemeat scandal in the European Union, staff from the HSUS and our affiliate, Humane Society International, mounted a campaign to educate consumers and EU government officials about the dangers of consuming horsemeat (intentionally, or not) derived from American horses, who are routinely treated with a vast array of medications, the use of which is prohibited in food-producing animals in the EU. In December 2014, the EU suspended imports of horsemeat from Mexico after a series of official European Commission audits consistently identified serious problems with the lack of adequate veterinary records and traceability of horses slaughtered for EU export -- the majority of which originated in the United States. And we’re still pressing for a moratorium covering Canada, Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay where similar traceability problems with horsemeat exports persist.

Finally, we’ve long led the campaign to expand and normalize the use of immunocontraception, and championed research, validation and implementation of the contraceptive product Zonastat-H (PZP). In pursuit of a successful immunocontraception strategy, we’ve worked with the Dietrich W. Botstiber Foundation to launch the Botstiber Institute for Wildlife Fertility Control, and forged a partnership with Purdue University to create a single shot, three- to four-year immunocontraception vaccine for wild horses and burros. Over the years we have learned more about the best way to ensure the effectiveness of PZP, and we are confident that, combined with the other aspects of the proposal, this critical component will help ensure a more humane future for our nation’s wild horses and burros.

But every now and again, a position we’ve taken puts us in some degree of tension with other organizations. That’s not unusual in any movement, and it is our hope and sincere expectation that, in time, any humane advocates doubtful about the wisdom and value of the plan we’ve forged will come to appreciate its soundness.

Everyone with experience in politics understands the need for realism in the face of a difficult challenge whose solutions have proven elusive. And you’d be hard-pressed to find a more contentious question in the realm of animal protection than the fate of these majestic residents of America’s western rangelands. That’s one of the reasons why the current proposal is so striking. This time, horse advocates, ranching interests and other stakeholders have set aside their differences in the interests of an approach intended to secure the long-term future of wild horses and burros without using lethal methods such as mass killing and slaughter. It was not easy, and took several years as these stakeholders did not all start in the same place. Eventually, however, they did find a common set of goals -- an outcome that promises to break the current deadlock over these iconic animals’ long-term fate. The alternative, as we heard from members of Congress on both sides of the aisle, was moving toward slaughter or mass killing, and we’ve seen moves to make that a reality, such as the president requesting the authority to use “all tools,” including lethal ones, and the National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board voting to support a plan to reach its population target for wild horses and burros within eight years by killing healthy animals and via unlimited sales. That is unacceptable, and that’s why this proposal merits the consideration and support of the U.S. Congress as well as the general public. It deserves to be funded and implemented as soon as practicable, and if approved, we will push for its annual renewal.

Our nation has an obligation to wild horses and burros, one codified in the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971. And now, we have a genuine chance to make good on the promise of that legislation, to provide these extraordinary wild denizens of the American West a chance to survive and thrive.

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.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Proposal offers brighter future for wild horses and burros

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

The Bureau of Land Management’s Wild Horse and Burro Program is broken. Since inception of the program, the BLM has removed approximately 270,000 wild horses and burros from our public lands, without any significant use of fertility control tools, and without a plan to ensure the long-term viability and humane treatment of wild horses and burros.

HORSE-WILD-ISTOCK-529234537_383661
iStock Photo

For many years, BLM and equine advocates have been locked in a continuing cycle of ever-increasing removals, more and more horses warehoused in holding facilities (and the associated rising costs), and a political and policy stalemate between stakeholders—with no solutions in sight. Meanwhile wild horse and burro populations have grown—as have political tensions surrounding the program —and to date because no viable solutions have been presented to Congress, we are looking at a future in which the BLM will likely be directed by Congress to sell wild horse and burros without limitation, or destroy “excess” wild horses and burros.

Three years ago the HSUS, HSLF and its allies decided enough was enough, and started to work cooperatively with other stakeholders on a simple goal—find a responsible way forward. Today, we are announcing our support for a landmark proposal for the care of America’s wild horses and burros.

Working in concert with other animal welfare, wild horse advocacy, conservation and rangeland management stakeholders, we have developed a proposal for the non-lethal and humane care of wild horses and burros, with four key elements:

  1. Comprehensive large-scale application of proven, safe and humane fertility control strategies to help stabilize wild horse and burro populations on the range and to slow population growth.
  2. Targeted gathers of horses and burros in densely populated areas that cannot sustain large numbers of animals, to protect horses and burros from forage and water shortages, lower populations, and facilitate non-lethal fertility control and population control efforts.
  3. Relocate horses and burros in short-term holding facilities, and those taken off the range, to large cost-effective, humane pasture facilities that provide a free-roaming environment for wild horses and burros.
  4. Promoting the adoption of wild horses and burros into good homes to improve the lives of currently warehoused horses and burros, reduce the total cost of the program, and redirect funds to long-term strategies for the care and sustainability of horse and burro populations.

This proposal represents an entirely new, humane and comprehensive approach to wild horse and burro management—combining a number of techniques currently in use with new and innovative approaches into a larger framework for humane long-term care and rehoming of horses and burros.

One thing the proposal doesn’t include? The destruction or unlimited sale of healthy wild horses and burros. Although this proposal requires some interventions for horses that the humane community has fought in the past, the comprehensive plan, as a whole, is the best path forward to protect America’s horses from an ineffective status quo.

Fighting the big fights to protect all animals requires more than just objecting and opposing inhumane treatment of animals. It requires creative action to change the status quo. And this includes working with people from many different backgrounds and interests to find real-world solutions for animals. We’ve taken that approach here, as we have done in the past for many other animals on different occasions.

It wasn’t easy to get here, but it is the very best pathway forward. We all want to see healthy herds of wild horses and burros on the range in perpetuity, and we firmly believe something must be done now to prevent the suffering of horses and burros in the future. Working together we have broken the stalemate and presented to Congress a cooperative solution that focuses on the non-lethal and humane care of wild horses and burros, and also ensures the long-term protection of wild horses and burros on our western rangelands. Now we must call on Congress to fund this pathway forward to sustain these American icons for decades to come.

Read our FAQ about this proposal here.

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, April 10, 2019

Recognizing Humane Legislators on Capitol Hill

Last night, the Humane Society Legislative Fund and The Humane Society of the United States co-hosted the annual Congressional Humane Awards to honor a bipartisan group of lawmakers who led the way for animals during the last year. Dozens of Senators and Representatives plus staff members from additional offices attended the event in the U.S. Capitol to celebrate the federal lawmakers who are working to make the world a better place for animals.

Stabenow
Photo courtesy of Sen. Stabenow's office
2018 Legislator of the Year Sen. Stabenow, center,
pictured with HSLF President Sara Amundson,
to the left,and HSUS President and CEO Kitty Block,
to the right.

The top awards this year went to Senators Pat Roberts, R-Kan., Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., Mike Conaway, R-Texas, and Collin Peterson, D-Minn., who were honored as the 2018 Humane Legislators of the Year for their work on key animal protection measures in the Farm Bill. The Humane Legislator of the Year award recognizes federal lawmakers who have achieved path-breaking reforms for animals through federal legislation.

In 2018, Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Roberts and Ranking Member Stabenow and House Agriculture Committee Chairman Conaway and Ranking Member Peterson played pivotal roles on four key victories in the multi-year Farm Bill signed into law in December (P.L. 115-334):

  • King Amendment – Most importantly, the final package excluded the disastrous amendment tacked onto the House Farm Bill in committee by Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa). This amendment threatened countless state and local laws, including laws addressing horse and dog meat, extreme confinement of farm animals, puppy mills, and the sale of shark fins, as well as a range of other concerns such as food safety, child labor, opioids, pesticide exposure, fire-safe cigarettes, manure management, and handling of diseased livestock. The King amendment generated overwhelming opposition by a diverse coalition of more than 220 groups and 600 individual government officials, veterinary professionals, farmers, legal experts, faith leaders, and citizens across the political spectrum who took a public stance against this measure.

  • Pets and Domestic Violence – Senators Roberts and Stabenow included in their initial Senate Farm Bill a provision mirroring the Pet and Women Safety (PAWS) Act (S. 322/H.R. 909 in the 115th Congress), which was sustained in the final package. This extends federal domestic violence protections to include pets and authorizes grant money to help domestic violence shelters and other entities accommodate pets or arrange for pet shelter. Currently, only 3 percent of these shelters allow pets. Research shows that abusers often threaten or inflict violence on pets as a way to intimidate or control their partners and prevent them from leaving. The measure enjoyed the support of a broad network of domestic violence, law enforcement, veterinary, and animal welfare organizations.

  • Animal Fighting – The final package included an amendment passed on the House floor by a 359-51 vote to clarify that federal prohibitions against dogfighting and cockfighting activity apply to all U.S. jurisdictions, including U.S. territories. This amendment mirrored the Parity in Animal Cruelty Enforcement (PACE) Act (H.R. 4202/S. 2971). It will help protect animals from vicious cruelty, protect communities from criminal activity often linked to animal fighting such as drug trafficking and gang violence, reduce threats to public health and the food supply from transmission of bird flu and other illnesses such as the current outbreak of virulent Newcastle disease, and enhance enforcement of the federal animal fighting law across the U.S.

  • Dog and Cat Meat – The House Committee and the Senate approved amendments based on the Dog and Cat Meat Trade Prohibition Act (H.R. 1406). The final Farm Bill prohibits the domestic slaughter, trade, and import/export of dogs and cats for human consumption, preventing an appalling trade from taking hold in the U.S. and strengthening our standing 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 subjected to unspeakable abuse only to end up on someone’s dinner plate.

Toomey
Photo courtesy of Bill Petros
Sen. Toomey, pictured center with
HSUS President and CEO Kitty Block, to the left,
and HSLF President Sara Amundson, to the right,
was named a Legislative Leader.

Senator Stabenow received the 2014 Legislator of the Year Award, too, for her leadership on that year’s Farm Bill—keeping the King amendment out and strengthening federal animal fighting law by prohibiting knowing attendance at an organized animal fight or bringing a child to such an event—as well as her work to end intensive confinement of laying hens in battery cages. In 2018, she also sent a letter to the Secretary of Agriculture voicing concern about USDA’s website purge of inspection reports and other enforcement records under the Animal Welfare Act and the Horse Protection Act.

Representative Peterson was the lead sponsor of legislation in the 107th Congress that he got enacted as part of the 2002 Farm Bill to crack down on animal fighting. Those provisions closed loopholes that allowed the interstate shipment of fighting birds and export of fighting birds and dogs and strengthened penalties for animal fighting violations.

In addition to honoring Senators Roberts and Stabenow and Representatives Conaway and Peterson, HSLF and the HSUS recognized a broader, bipartisan group of outstanding lawmakers based on their leadership on animal protection issues and their ratings on the 2018 Humane Scorecard. In total, 173 legislators—45 Senators and 128 Representatives and Delegates (representing 40 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands and Virgin Islands)—were honored for their work in 2018. The animal protection community is grateful to all of these Members of Congress who are helping to forge a path to a more humane future through their demonstrated leadership. Congratulations to the recipients of the 2018 Humane Awards.

Thursday, April 04, 2019

Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act moves up in Congress; New film exposes cruelty and corruption in global trade

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

The Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act passed the Senate Commerce Committee with a near-unanimous voice vote this week, with American lawmakers leaving no doubt of how they view the nefarious global trade in which fishermen cut the fins off sharks and dump them back in the waters to drown, be eaten alive by other fish, or bleed to death.

Hslf-shark-inset-175x225
Photo by Vanessa Mignon

While our federal law bans shark finning in American waters, the United States is an end market as well as a transit point for shark fins obtained in other countries where finning is unregulated or where finning laws are not sufficiently enforced. The bill, introduced by Sens. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., would decisively put an end to such U.S. participation, while reinforcing our country's leadership in ending the global trade in shark fins.

A companion bill in the House is also moving ahead. Sponsored by Reps. Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan, D-Northern Mariana Islands, and Michael McCaul, R-Texas, it was heard in the House Water, Oceans and Wildlife subcommittee last week.

To meet a demand for shark fin soup, fins from as many as 73 million sharks are traded throughout the world every year. This commerce is unsustainable—some shark populations worldwide have declined by as much as 90 percent in recent decades, and the International Union for Conservation of Nature estimates that up to one-quarter of shark and ray species are at risk of extinction.

So far, 13 U.S. states, including Hawaii and Texas, have passed laws banning the trade, and more states are considering bans this year. Humane Society International is working to end shark finning globally, through education and legislation in Europe, Latin America, and Asia. HSI/Canada is working to advance a federal bill that prohibits the sale of shark fins within Canadian borders. The bill already passed the Canadian Senate with strong support and awaits a House of Commons vote.

Canada is the largest importer of shark fins outside Asia, and Canadian conservationist, photographer, author, and filmmaker Rob Stewart has worked to bring attention to this cruel practice through his films and advocacy. Tragically, Rob passed away two years ago in a diving accident, but his parents, Brian and Sandy Stewart (with the rest of the Sharkwater team) recently released a powerful film, Sharkwater Extinction, documenting Rob’s efforts to expose the illicit shark fin industry. The film follows him to various countries as he uncovers the corruption intertwined with shark finning.

Through striking cinematography and gripping scenes, Sharkwater Extinction aptly captures the plight of sharks and drives home why we need to end this cruel trade. The film is being released on Amazon on Earth Day, April 22, and as our efforts to pass the ban on the shark fin trade continue on the Hill and in statehouses across the country, we will bring it to lawmakers’ attention.

We hope you will watch it too, and call your Members of Congress to ask them to cosponsor the Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act. Sharks need our help now, more than ever. This keystone animal plays a vital role in protecting marine ecosystems and conserving wildlife and habitat in the oceans. We need sharks swimming free in the wild, not in a bowl of soup.

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, April 03, 2019

PAST Act introduced in Senate as more evidence for ending walking horse abuse surfaces

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

Recent developments in a case involving a Tennessee walking horse named Honors, who was crowned champion despite clear evidence that he was a victim of cruel soring, highlight the urgent need for Congress to swiftly pass the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act.

Hslf-soring-blog-300x200
Photo by the HSUS

The bill will close loopholes in the federal Horse Protection Act and end the abject cruelty of soring, a practice where Tennessee walking horses and other related breeds are tortured with caustic acids, chains and heavy stacked shoes, cutting, and other gruesome techniques to get them to fling their legs high in the air as they avoid the pain of stepping down. The exaggerated and artificial gait that is the result of such pain is referred to as the “Big Lick,” and it has been rewarded in the Tennessee walking horse industry in particular. The PAST Act would outlaw the show-ring use of devices that are integral to the soring process. It would increase penalties and abolish the failed system of industry self-policing that has encouraged this culture of abuse to fester unabated. 

The bill was introduced in the House in January and has already garnered 189 bipartisan cosponsors, and today a bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced the Senate companion bill, S. 1007.

There are countless examples of why this legislation is necessary, but one that particularly drives home the need is the saga of Honors and his trainer, Gary Edwards. It began when U.S. Department of Agriculture inspectors found Honors to be repeatedly in violation of the Horse Protection Act, resulting in his being disqualified from showing. Honors' owners, Daniel and Keith McSwain, sued the USDA in 2016 and found a judge who ruled in their favor, requiring that the federal agency hold a hearing before causing Honors to be disqualified at shows. The USDA did not appeal the decision. 

At the Tennessee Walking Horse Celebration (the breed’s largest competition) that year, the USDA inspected the horse but since it was not feasible to conduct a hearing in the middle of the show, it did not require show management to disqualify Honors. Despite clear evidence of soring abuse, the judges rewarded the McSwains with wins for Honors in his qualifying class and the World Grand Championship. Following Honors’ wins, the McSwains were cited and eventually disqualified for continuing to enter Honors  in shows despite the violations.

The USDA also finally decided to disqualify Gary Edwards, who trained and rode Honors at that 2016 Celebration, for three years for his role in showing the sored horse, but recently we learned that his penalty will not even start until 2022, allowing him to continue business as usual. Edwards’ brother,  Larry Edwards, was also cited by the USDA in connection with these incidents and will be disqualified for three years, but not until this September, after the next Celebration. 

This whole sordid tale illustrates just how a champion Tennessee walking horse is made. Industry participants, including owners of horses, trainers, and judges, thumb their noses at federal law, and continue to show—and crown as champions—horses who have been subjected to incredible cruelty. 

What it also shows is the lack of timely, effective enforcement by the USDA, charged with ensuring that the animals involved in these enterprises are not being subjected to cruelty. It is difficult to comprehend why the agency would wait this long to penalize a repeat violator whose career has been filled with numerous HPA citations and federal disqualifications, and why—if they justifiably believe he is a chronic, recidivist violator—they are waiting until 2022 to begin his disqualification. In the interim, Gary Edwards is free to continue soring his poor equine victims.

The PAST Act Senate companion bill, introduced by Sens. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, and Mark Warner, D-Va., has a solid bipartisan set of original cosponsors: Sens. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., Susan Collins, R-Maine, Edward Markey, D-Mass., Steve Daines, R-Mont., Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Patrick Toomey, R-Pa., Ron Wyden, D-Ore, and Bob Casey, D-Pa. The House bill, H.R. 693, was reintroduced by Representatives Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., and Ted Yoho, R-Fla., (both veterinarians) with Reps. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., Ron Estes, R-Kan., Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., and Chris Collins, R-N.Y.

“I support the humane treatment of all animals and the responsible training of horses. I remain committed to ending the cruel practice of soring, and will continue to promote enforcement of current animal welfare laws,” Senator Crapo said.

“Horses have been a part of our Commonwealth’s history and culture since the settling of Jamestown, and like all animals, they deserve to be treated with care and compassion,” said Sen. Warner. “The PAST Act will further protect these animals from the cruel practice of inflicting deliberate pain and suffering for show purposes.”

This is common-sense legislation and it is endorsed by a vast array of horse industry, veterinary, law enforcement, and animal protection groups and key individuals. The only ones who oppose it are those who are wanting to continue to get away with this cruelty. Soring is a practice that has been going on for more than 50 years, and one that never should have been allowed, let alone encouraged. Please contact your federal legislators and ask them to cosponsor and pass the PAST Act and put those who abuse horses out of business.

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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