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July 2019

Monday, July 29, 2019

This Shark Week, help save sharks from cruelties like finning

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

There was a time when sharks were routinely portrayed by popular media as aggressive and ruthless predators—animals to be afraid of and to avoid, or even worse, to kill. But today, with growing awareness and increasingly positive public attitudes toward these magnificent creatures, we know that sharks themselves are in terrible danger from human actions, with their numbers in the wild declining sharply as a result of overfishing and cruel activities like shark finning. In fact, up to 73 million sharks are killed each year for their fins. 

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Photo by Vanessa Mignon

Shark Week, which began yesterday on the Discovery Channel, is evolving accordingly and now offers television viewers an opportunity to learn more about these awesome creatures who play an important role in the marine ecosystems and who could, unless the world takes critical steps, become extinct.

We have advocated for sharks for a long time here at the Humane Society Legislative Fund, the Humane Society of the United States, and Humane Society International. Shark finning is one of the most grisly and ecologically wasteful forms of animal cruelty there is, and the continuing market for shark fins in countries around the world is a priority target for our reform efforts.

Earlier this year, we worked with members of Congress to reintroduce the Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act, H.R. 737/S. 877, that would end U.S. participation in the global shark fin trade. The House bill is led by Reps. Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan, D-Northern Mariana Islands, and Michael McCaul, R-Texas, and it has 222 bipartisan cosponsors—more than half the House. The counterpart bill in the Senate is led by Sens. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va.

We are putting our might behind passing this important bill, and last week, we hosted a briefing for the House of Representatives to draw members’ attention to the destructive transnational shark fin trade.

The featured guests were Brian and Sandy Stewart, producers of the documentary film Sharkwater Extinction. They treated a packed room of congressional staff to excerpts of their late son Rob Stewart’s award-winning film uncovering the ecologically damaging trade in shark fins, and met with lawmakers to discuss the urgent need to pass the Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act.

Stewart was a courageous filmmaker and fierce ocean advocate who tragically lost his life in a diving accident while filming two years ago. His work was invaluable to raising awareness of the shark fin trade, and helped change public sentiment toward sharks, turning many people worldwide into shark advocates. His parents are traveling the world, carrying on his mission through education and political action.

Rob’s work was also integral to getting his home country, Canada—the largest importer of shark fins outside Asia—to pass a landmark bill earlier this year that prohibits the trade in shark fins nationwide as well as finning in Canadian waters. HSI/Canada partnered with the Stewarts and other shark advocates to introduce and pass this bill.

The HSUS and HSI have also worked on ending the global demand for shark fins through public education and legislation elsewhere. HSI affiliates have won bans on shark finning in India, Taiwan, and the European Union, and its public awareness campaigns on reducing shark fin consumption in China, Taiwan and Hong Kong have reached millions of people. HSI is also advocating for international protections for mako sharks at the 18th meeting of the Conference of the Parties of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and is collecting signatures from supporters urging international leaders to adopt these protections.

Stateside, the HSUS has worked to get shark fin trade bans passed in 13 states, including Hawaii and Texas, and three U.S. territories; and more states are considering bans.

Our work, and the work of advocates like Rob Stewart, has led to a sea change in how the world views sharks. In addition to the legislative successes and steps forward, several dozen hotel chains, airlines and global shipping companies no longer serve or transport shark fins as a result of relentless advocacy by animal protection organizations like ours.

The global momentum to protect sharks is growing and our country needs to be part of it. Sharks are too precious to lose—they are top predators in the oceans and play a critical role in the balance of marine ecosystems. As you watch these magnificent creatures on your television screens this week, we hope you will take the time to also make a call to your senators and your representative to ask them to cosponsor the Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act. Sharks deserve our protection now more than ever.

Kitty Block is President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Breaking news: Congress moves to make horse soring a thing of the PAST

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

We have terrific news to report in our long-running fight to protect Tennessee walking horses and related breeds from the cruel practice of soring. The House of Representatives has just approved a bill to end this heinous practice that allows violators to intentionally inflict pain on a horse’s legs or hooves, forcing the animal to perform an artificial, high-stepping gait called the “big lick.”

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Photo by the HSUS

The U.S. Senator Joseph D. Tydings Memorial Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, H.R. 693, was approved by an overwhelming 333 to 96 bipartisan vote. It would amend the Horse Protection Act and close loopholes that have allowed some trainers to continue soring innocent animals to get them to win ribbons and awards at competitions.

The PAST Act would end the failed and conflict-ridden system of industry self-policing (replacing it with a cadre of third party, independent inspectors trained, licensed, and assigned by USDA and accountable to the agency). It would ban devices integral to soring, strengthen penalties, and hold abusers accountable. 

Soring is a particularly sinister form of animal cruelty. It’s like forcing a hurdle sprinter to race with broken glass in her shoes to make her jump higher and run faster. Trainers apply caustic chemicals to the horse's limbs, wrapping them tightly for days to “cook” the chemicals in, then attach chains or “action devices” to strike the painful area. Pressure shoeing is another popular technique: cutting a horse's hoof almost to the quick, jamming in hard or sharp objects, and tightly nailing on a tall, heavy platform shoe. These methods cause excruciating pain whenever the horse puts weight on his hoof. To evade detection, horses are also subjected to “stewarding,” in which trainers kick, shock, and hit them with wooden sticks to get the animals to stand still despite the pain. The horses learn not to flinch when an inspector presses their sore legs.  

In 1970, Congress intended to end soring when it passed the Horse Protection Act, led by then-Sen. Tydings of Maryland, but political interference and poor commitment to enforcement by the U.S. Department of Agriculture allowed the practice to continue unabated.

The Humane Society of the United States has long led the charge to end soring. Our staff members—some of whom have been participants in the walking horse industry and tried to advance reforms from within—have exposed the cruelty and corruption in the industry, even under threat of expulsion and physical harm.  

Our brave undercover investigators have documented the abject cruelty and blatant lawbreaking in undercover investigations that led to one of the first convictions ever under the Horse Protection Act and to the precursor of the PAST Act being introduced in 2012. Our attorneys, with the pro bono contributions of Latham & Watkins, LLP, have filed petitions with USDA on behalf of the HSUS and others seeking regulatory reform, leading to a strict new rule to crack down on soring that was finalized but later repealed when the Trump administration took office. Our and equine protection staff have successfully pushed Congress to boost funding and mobilized broad support for the proposed rule to strengthen USDA enforcement and, working with House champions and coalition partners, lobbied tirelessly to secure this important milestone for horses. 

We are grateful to the champions of the bill—Reps. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore.,  Ted Yoho, R-Fla.,  Steve Cohen, D-Tenn.,  Ron Estes, R-Kan.,  Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill.,  and Chris Collins, R-N.Y—to the 308 total House cosponsors, everyone who voted today to pass this important bill, the House leadership for bringing the bill to a vote, and to former Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., and Rep. Cohen who introduced the first version of this bill back in 2012.

The PAST Act has also received the support of hundreds of stakeholder groups and individuals, including 70 national and state horse groups such as the American Horse Council and the U.S. Equestrian Federation, the American Veterinary Medical Association, the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association, American Association of Equine Practitioners, the state veterinary organizations of all 50 states, key individuals in the Tennessee Walking Horse show world, National Sheriffs' Association, Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, and major newspapers in Kentucky and Tennessee (the states where soring is most prevalent).

It’s now up to the Senate to act to stamp out this cruelty. A Senate companion bill, S. 1007, introduced in April by Sens. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho,  and Mark Warner, D-Va., currently has 41 Senate cosponsors. We urge the Senate to act swiftly to pass this important bill.

Tennessee walking horses are a breed known for their beautiful natural gait and wonderful disposition. But at this very moment, horses are being sored in preparation for the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration in August. There is no reason nor excuse for delay. Please contact your U.S. Senators and urge them to cosponsor the PAST Act if they haven’t yet, and do all they can to get it passed quickly. And if your U.S. representative voted to pass the bill, please thank them for helping end this cruelty.

Kitty Block is President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Justice for Cecil and the other victims of trophy hunting

It’s been four years since an American trophy hunter and his guide lured an African lion named Cecil out of his protected home in the Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe and killed him. The appalling circumstances of Cecil’s death sparked worldwide outrage, and drew attention to a shocking truth about the responsibility of American citizens and the United States government for such tragic slaughter. Unbeknownst to most Americans, the United States is the world’s largest importer not only of wildlife trophies in general, but also of species listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act. The U.S. imports 70 percent of global trophy exports of internationally protected threatened and/or endangered species. And all the while, the U.S. based Safari Club International and other trophy hunting interest groups have pushed to expand their range of options for killing and importation of these imperiled species, and to insinuate themselves into the deliberations of federal agencies responsible for America’s global wildlife policies and initiatives.

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Photo by Vanessa Mignon

Today, the Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Oceans, and Wildlife of the U.S. House of Representatives produced a glimmer of hope that there actually is a branch of government willing and ready to restrict and even to eliminate our nation’s encouragement and abetting of the senseless slaughter of wildlife through a lax import policy concerning trophy parts. The committee held a hearing on H.R. 2245, the Conserving Ecosystems by Ceasing the Importation of Large Animal Trophies Act of 2019—the CECIL Act—which would substantially restrict the import and export of any species listed or proposed to be listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act. I extend sincere appreciation to House Natural Resources Chairman Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., and his colleagues for introducing the CECIL Act and to Water, Oceans, and Wildlife Subcommittee Chairman Jared Huffman, D-Calif. for holding this important hearing. The bill makes sense, and it would go a long way toward stopping the flow of blood and trophies.

Iris Ho, Humane Society International Senior Wildlife Programs and Policy Specialist, testified at the hearing highlighting the true nature of the trophy hunting industry. At its heart, it is one that encourages the killing of rare animals, ignores science, tramples on conservation, disregards wildlife laws, and fuels corruption and wildlife trafficking. During her testimony Ms. Ho noted that “there is irrefutable scientific evidence that trophy hunting has contributed to substantial declines in lion and leopard populations across Africa that have put these species in danger of extinction. Deliberate removals of animals by trophy hunters have cascading effects by disrupting social cohesion and population stability.”

Trophy hunting is a moral outrage on its own terms, but it also adversely impacts communities in the range nations of the targeted species. Local economies will pay the price if key wildlife disappears. Wildlife watching tourism—like photographic safaris—contribute significantly more sustainable revenue and jobs than trophy hunting. Trophy hunting contributes only 0.03% of the annual GDP of eight African countries surveyed in 2017, supporting only 7,500 job, whereas wildlife watching tourism contributes significantly more by supporting 24 million jobs and generating $48 billion for the economy. By killing majestic animals for a one-time fee, trophy hunting cripples current and future tourism industries and harms opportunities of much greater economic potential for local communities in range state nations.   

There’s an even bigger point to consider. Iconic wildlife like African lions and elephants belong to the world and not to the elite few who see them merely as trophies to mount on their walls. We owe it to Cecil and the thousands of other animals like him who have died at the hands of trophy hunters to do our very best to protect them. Moreover, we owe it to ourselves. We have the power to reshape our nation’s policies and conduct when it comes to reckless and ecologically disastrous trophy hunting, and we should use it. Please take a moment to call your U.S Representative at 202- 224-3121 and ask them to  cosponsor H.R 2245, the CECIL Act.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Members of Congress join rescue pups at U.S. Capitol to urge passage of bill ending malicious acts of cruelty like crushing animals and bestiality

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

It may be hard to believe, but some of the most malicious acts of animal cruelty—including crushing, burning, drowning, suffocating, and impaling animals and sexually exploiting them—are not felonies under federal law. Today, a bipartisan group of lawmakers gathered in front of the U.S. Capitol, along with several rescue dogs, to urge the House of Representatives to pass a bipartisan bill to ban these acts.

Callie
photo courtesy of Corine Weiler

The Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture (PACT) Act, H.R. 724, sponsored by Reps. Ted Deutch, D-Fla., and Vern Buchanan, R-Fla, was introduced this year in January and it already enjoys the support of 270 members of Congress. In past years, similar versions of the bill have passed the full Senate twice before stalling in the House. Now, with new leadership in the House, we are hopeful that this important bill will finally become law.

The Humane Society of the United States has successfully pushed for all 50 states to declare malicious acts of animal cruelty as felonies. In 2010, we helped to secure passage of a federal law, the Animal Crush Video Prohibition Act, banning the trade in “crush videos”—obscene videos that show animals being subjected to terrible cruelty and suffering for the titillation of perverted viewers.

But there’s a serious gap in the law that needs to be addressed. While those who engage in such extreme cruelty can be prosecuted by the states where they are caught, there is no recourse for federal law enforcement and prosecutors unless an obscene video has been created and traded. The PACT Act will criminalize malicious acts of animal cruelty whenever they occur on federal property or affect interstate commerce, such as when animals are moved across state lines.

At the event today, Humane Society Legislative Fund and Humane Society of the United States staff was joined by Reps. Deutch and Buchanan and other cosponsors of the bill, including Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., who is co-chair of the Congressional Animal Protection Caucus. 

“Americans care about the welfare of animals,” Rep. Deutch said in his remarks. “We form deep relationships with our pets, and we are outraged by cases of animal abuse. I’m proud of the broad bipartisan support we’ve gained for the PACT Act. It’s time for Congress to pass this bill and make animal abuse a federal offense. I am eager to get this done and show our commitment to protecting our pets.”

“It is crazy to believe that animal cruelty is still not a federal crime,” Rep. Buchanan said. “Many sick individuals have been able to get away with dogfighting and animal cruelty. That will change with the PACT Act.”

Also among the speakers were Chris Schindler, vice president of Field Services at the Humane Rescue Alliance of Washington, D.C., and Sydney Helfand, a high school student who began a petition at Change.org to pass the PACT Act. Sydney’s petition has already gathered more than 650,000 signatures, illustrating the wide support this issue enjoys among members of the public, and the momentum behind passing this bill. Several celebrities, including Trisha Yearwood, are also joining us today and in coming days to call for the passage of the bill.

There is no reason for Congress to drag its feet on this issue any more—we need the PACT Act to become law so federal prosecutors and law enforcement officials have the tools they need to bring those responsible for cruelty to animals to justice, no matter where they commit their crimes.

Please contact your Members of Congress and ask them to cosponsor the PACT Act and urge them to vote “yes” when the bill comes to the House floor for a vote. You can also join us today by posting a photo with your beloved companion, using the hashtags #ProtectourPets and #PACTAct, to move Congress to act now.

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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