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April 2019

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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