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Action Alerts

Thursday, October 24, 2019

BREAKING NEWS: NIH reneges on promise, will not send 44 research chimpanzees to sanctuary

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

In a stunning about-face on its own promise, the National Institutes of Health today announced it will not send 44 chimpanzees, now held by the Alamogordo primate laboratory in New Mexico, to sanctuary.

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Photo by Crystal Alba/Project Chimps

Just last October, National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins reiterated the agency’s full commitment to retire all chimpanzees it owns or supports to the federal sanctuary Chimp Haven, saying that there would be very limited exceptions. These are animals who have spent their lifetimes in metal cages and they deserve to enjoy the rest of their days in an environment that simulates, to the best extent possible, the natural surroundings of a chimpanzee in the wild.

Dr. Collins had clearly stated that the only exception to retiring the chimpanzees would be in cases where relocation would severely or irreversibly accelerate deterioration of the chimpanzee’s physical or behavioral health. Today’s agency announcement contradicts that promise.

The NIH claimed that "it would be a serious risk to the chimpanzees’ health to move them." There were many flaws with the process that the NIH followed in deciding the chimpanzees’ fate: the panel was certainly not “independent” as it was made up of NIH’s own veterinarians and it did not include a veterinarian with sanctuary experience nor a primate behaviorist nor an ethicist. We expressed these concerns when the panel was created and had hoped they wouldn’t simply rubber-stamp the laboratory’s request to keep the chimpanzees confined at their facility for the rest of the animals’ lives while the laboratory continues to receive taxpayer dollars. Unfortunately, that is exactly what happened. There is no clear evidence that the long-term welfare of the chimpanzees was actually considered in making this decision.

We know that chimpanzees who are sent to sanctuary see an immense improvement in the quality of their lives. Since the inception of Chimp Haven, hundreds of chimpanzees, of all ages and health conditions, have moved there. There has not been a single death during transport and there are incredible stories of chimpanzees who have thrived at the sanctuary, including a chimpanzee named Grandma who was deemed as fragile when retired to Chimp Haven in 2005, yet lived happily there for another 10 years, reaching the age of 62.

We are putting NIH on notice that this fight is not over. Chimpanzees are our closest relatives in the animal kingdom, and we share 99 percent of our DNA with these sentient and intelligent animals. HSLF and the HSUS have been working for a long time to end the use of chimpanzees in experiments and to get them to retirement in sanctuary and we will not let the NIH blindside the American public and let the chimpanzees suffer through the rest of their lives in the confines of a laboratory. We’re now evaluating our options for judicial review to compel the NIH to honor its obligation under the Chimpanzee Health Improvement and Maintenance Protection (CHIMP) Act, which requires that all government-owned chimpanzees deemed no longer necessary for research be retired to the national sanctuary. The NIH has a responsibility to all Americans to ensure that these animals, who have suffered their whole lives, finally get the quality of life—and a retirement—they deserve, at Chimp Haven.

Please take a moment to send a message to the NIH and urge them to reassess their decision to not retire these chimps.

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

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

ProTECT Act introduced in Congress to ban trophy hunting horror show

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

President Trump has called trophy hunting a “horror show,” but on his watch, the Department of the Interior has dismantled regulations to protect wildlife and made it easier to import trophies of endangered and threatened animals. We have been encouraging members of Congress to step up the pressure against trophy hunting by Americans, and today a bipartisan group of representatives introduced the Prohibiting Threatened and Endangered Creature Trophies Act of 2019 (ProTECT) Act, which will help prevent the hunting of any species listed as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

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Photo by Vanessa Mignon

The measure, introduced by Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, Ted Lieu, D-Calif., and Pete King, R-N.Y., would disallow permits for killing these animals at canned hunting facilities in the United States and ban the import of trophies of ESA-listed species, including lions, elephants, leopards and rhinos.

Trophy hunters pay enormous sums to travel the world to kill rare and iconic wildlife, with the primary motivation of obtaining animal parts (their heads, hides, claws or even the whole stuffed animal) for mere display and bragging rights. Many of the species trophy hunters target, including the African lion, African elephant, African leopard, and black rhino, are at risk of extinction.

Sadly, the United States is the world’s largest importer of hunting trophies; between 2005 and 2014, a staggering 1.26 million wildlife trophies were imported into the country. This number includes the trophies of thousands of federally-protected animals, including 5,600 African lions and 4,600 African elephants. 

The current administration has exacerbated the problem: in 2017, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) dismantled Obama-era regulations on trophy imports and announced that it would allow lion imports from Zambia and Zimbabwe. The agency signaled it would approve all trophy imports on a case-by-case basis, shielding these import permits from the public eye—a decision the HSUS, HSI and our partners have challenged in court.

The ProTECT Act would also cover endangered and threatened animals who are used for target practice here in the United States, in canned hunting operations. As difficult as it may be to believe, exotic endangered species like the scimitar-horned oryx, Dama gazelle, addax, Arabian oryx, barasingha, and yak can all be purchased by trophy hunters right here in our country and then shot in fenced enclosures with not even a shred of fair chase involved.

The FWS issues permits to allow these species to be killed in captive hunts in the United States and that’s a problem, because it creates an additional market for trophies from endangered and threatened species by fueling trophy hunters’ desires and may further encourage illegal poaching in the animals’ native habitat.

Hunters, trophy hunting trade organizations, and the current leadership at FWS argue that trophy hunting contributes to species conservation efforts abroad. But scientific studies have demonstrated the opposite, especially since the targeted species are already under siege by poachers, wildlife traffickers, and habitat loss. Trophy hunting depletes wildlife populations because hunters routinely kill the largest and strongest males, upsetting social equilibrium and diminishing species recovery efforts. Trophy hunting revenue doesn’t pass the cost-benefit test either. A 2017 economic report, commissioned by Humane Society International and conducted by Economists at Large, revealed that trophy hunting makes minimal contributions to African economies and jobs.

The majority of Americans deeply dislike trophy hunting and the import of hunting trophies into this nation. A 2017 nationwide poll released by the Humane Society of the United States showed that 69 percent of voters oppose trophy hunting altogether. Voters also oppose allowing American trophy hunters to bring home the bodies or parts of the elephants and lions they kill abroad by a margin of more than five to one.

Trophy hunting is a true scourge, and that’s why we invest so much time and so many resources to fight it both here and abroad. The ProTECT Act is a vital step toward ensuring the survival of the world’s most at-risk species, and we welcome it. It’s a top priority for the Humane Society Legislative Fund, Humane Society International, and the HSUS in Congress this year. It’s not too late to save these species from extinction, and our government can be an instrument of good on this issue. Please take a moment to ask your U.S. House Representative to support this important bill.

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

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

SAVE them; it’s the right thing to do

The North Atlantic right whale was once common across the entire Atlantic. Unfortunately, this ocean giant (at more than 50 feet long and weighing some 70 tons) became the focus of whaling efforts because the species was ‘the right whale to hunt’—thus its name. Right whales are huge but slow moving and so full of fat that they floated when struck. Subsequently, by the late 1800s, the right whale had been exterminated across most of its range and hunted to the point of extinction in North America. Their population now numbers only some 400 animals and, while whaling no longer threatens the species, it faces the modern perils of entanglement in commercial fishing gear and collisions with the large and fast ships that power across its remaining US and Canadian east coast range. It’s now the most endangered large whale species in the world.

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Photo courtesy of noaa.gov

Today, Senators Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., stepped up to help protect these majestic creatures by introducing the Scientific Assistance for Very Endangered North Atlantic (SAVE) Right Whales Act, which will fund promising research and recovery actions to halt the alarming loss of North Atlantic right whales in our coastal waters. Reps. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., and John Rutherford, R-Fla., introduced a companion bill in the House of Representatives (H.R. 1568).

The legislation would establish a grant program to fund collaborative projects between states, nongovernmental organizations, and stakeholders in the fishing and shipping industries with the goal of reducing the impacts of human activities on North Atlantic right whales. These funds—granted over a 5-year period—are desperately needed. With some energy and thought, we should be able to find ways to reconcile the interests of stakeholder industries while ensuring the survival of an iconic species that has suffered so much at human hands.

With our oceans warming, right whales are roaming further afield looking for food—they consume tiny plankton that live only in cold waters. That means that prior strategies of setting a short seasonal fishing closure in a small, high-use feeding area, or restricting traffic in a few busy shipping lanes along a predictable migratory route are no longer working to reduce the risk of whale deaths. In fact, some 28 North Atlantic right whales have been found dead just since 2017 with only 12 calves born in the same period.

This decline foretells disaster and demise for North Atlantic right whales unless we embrace the challenge of curbing the most serious threats to their survival, right away. Swift passage of the SAVE Right Whales Act will go a long way toward ensuring that this season’s newborn right whales will grow up not only to replenish their struggling species, but to flourish in a safer, healthier, and better marine environment. Please take a moment to contact your legislators and ask them to support this critical bill—we don’t have a moment to lose if we want to save this species.

Equine advocates gather on Capitol Hill to promote equine welfare bills

Yesterday, horse advocates from across the country came to Capitol Hill to press for passage of humane legislation at the federal level. Members of the Homes for Horses Coalition, a network of equine rescues and sanctuaries, and veterinarians from the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association joined officials from Humane Society Legislative Fund, the Humane Society of the United States, the Animal Welfare Institute, and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals for meetings with key members of Congress. The groups voiced their collective support for equine welfare legislation including the Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act, the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, and the Horseracing Integrity Act.

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Photo courtesy of Bryant Taylor

The Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act, H.R. 961/S. 2006, would permanently ban domestic horse slaughter, as well as the transport of horses abroad for slaughter in Canada and Mexico—sadly still permissible. Each year more than 80,000 American horses are shipped to Canada or Mexico, where they are butchered for their meat, which is consumed overseas. The suffering begins the moment these horses enter the slaughter pipeline. After being acquired by kill buyers, at auction or otherwise, they are loaded into cramped livestock trailers with other horses and spend many hours without food and water. These frightened flight animals often panic and fight in close quarters, which results in them injuring themselves in transport.

After all the cruelty and suffering these horses endure, their meat is unsafe for human consumption. Unlike animals raised for food, the vast majority of horses sent to slaughter will have ingested, or been treated or injected with, multiple chemical substances known to be dangerous to humans, untested on humans, or specifically prohibited for use in animals destined for human consumption.

The Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act (H.R. 693/S. 1007) passed the House this summer with an overwhelming 333 to 96 vote, so advocates today focused on increasing support for the bill in the Senate. The measure proposes urgently needed reforms to end horse soring—a cruel practice that inflicts pain on the horse’s feet and legs to produce an exaggerated gait known as the “Big Lick.” The PAST Act will eliminate the use of devices integral to the soring process, end a corrupt industry system of self-policing, and increase fines and criminal penalties for violators.

The Horseracing Integrity Act (H.R.1754/S.1820) will ban race-day medication, create a uniform medication policy for all 38 racing jurisdictions, and substantially increase out-of-competition testing for racehorses. The bill proposes to grant independent control over rule-making, testing, and enforcement oversight regarding drugs and medication to a new Authority created by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA ). This same agency is recognized by Congress as the official anti-doping agency for the Olympic, Pan American, and Paralympic sports in the United States, and it’s well qualified to reinforce standards within racing. These equine athletes are the heart and soul of the sport and deserve protection from those who place winning over racehorse welfare.

The groups that gathered on Capitol Hill represent policy, rescue, and veterinary perspectives. The Homes for Horses Coalition has saved countless horses each year from the slaughter pipeline—witnessing the cruelty of the process firsthand and helping to rehabilitate survivors so that they could go on to live happy, productive lives as companion animals. As veterinary professionals, the members of the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association can accurately speak to what truly qualifies as humane euthanasia and reject what occurs to horses at foreign slaughterhouses. As individuals who prescribe routine medications to horses, they are also qualified to  share their concerns regarding the doping of racehorses and the effects of illegal drugs on the health of racehorses. HSVMA members also have an acute understanding of the pain inflicted on horses who are sored and forced to perform in agonizing pain.

We helped to bring together these stakeholders to share their perspectives with members of Congress in the interests of passing life changing bills. You too can have an impact by contacting your members of Congress and asking him or her to support the SAFE Act, the PAST Act, and the Horseracing Integrity Act—together we can create a more humane world for horses!

Wednesday, August 07, 2019

Nashville calls for an end to cruel horse soring

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

Just weeks after the U.S. House of Representatives’ historic passage of the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act (H.R. 693), there’s more good news for Tennessee walking horses. The Nashville, TN Metro Council has approved a resolution supporting passage of PAST and urging Tennessee’s U.S. senators to cosponsor and press senate leaders to pass this legislation.

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Photo by the HSUS

Soring is the intentional infliction of pain on a horse's legs or hooves, to make the horse perform an artificial, high-stepping show ring gait known as the “Big Lick.” Caustic chemicals—blistering agents like mustard oil or diesel fuel—are applied to the horse's limbs, causing extreme suffering. The horse is then forced to wear chains or “action devices” when ridden, which strike the painful area, causing her to fling her legs high in an attempt to escape the agony. In another form of soring known as pressure shoeing, a horse's front hooves are cut almost to the quick, and then hard objects are jammed into the tender flesh and tall, heavy platform shoes are tightly nailed on, to cause excruciating pain whenever the horse bears weight on the hoof.

Introduced by Nashville Metro Councilwoman Nancy VanReece and amended by Councilwoman Kathleen Murphy, Resolution RS2019-1868 sends a strong message to those who torment these stoic, docile and beautiful horses in the name of a perverse entertainment, and to Tennessee‘s U.S. Senators Lamar Alexander and Marsha Blackburn. The governing body of the largest city in the state does not view the archaic torment of the state’s namesake breed as a “Tennessee tradition“ but as a Tennessee tragedy that has no place in the Volunteer State or anywhere else.

It’s not too late for senators who’ve been soft on soring to get onto the right side of history. S. 1007, introduced in April by Sens. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho and Mark Warner, D-Va., mirrors H.R. 693, approved by the U.S. House by a bipartisan 333-96 vote in July. The PAST Act proposes to amend the federal Horse Protection Act and close the loopholes that have allowed violators to continue abusive practices undeterred, to the detriment of the horses, the competitors playing by the rules, and Tennessee and its reputation. PAST would ban the devices integral to soring nationwide, and replace the failed, conflict-ridden system of industry self-policing with a team of third party, independent inspectors trained, licensed and assigned by the USDA, as well as strengthen penalties for the crime of soring. It currently has 43 Senate cosponsors.

PAST is endorsed by hundreds of leading groups and individuals in the horse industry and veterinary, law enforcement and animal protection communities, including the American Horse Council, U.S. Equestrian Federation, Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association, American Veterinary Medical Association, American Association of Equine Practitioners, the state veterinary organizations of all 50 states, Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, National Sheriffs’ Association, and celebrities such as actress and noted anti-soring advocate Priscilla Presley.

Kudos to the Music City for taking this important stand against soring. It’s a bold and hopeful action, one that challenges the U.S. Senate to do right by these horses nationwide and to restore the image of the beautiful Tennessee walking horse to its former glory as a breed that can be celebrated for its natural gait and wonderful disposition, not exploited and hurt for the sake of ribbons and prize money. Contact your Senators today and urge that they cosponsor and work to secure passage of the PAST Act—to finally make soring a thing of the past.

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

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

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.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Horse deaths at Santa Anita underscore need for racing reform nationwide

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

The number of horses dying at the Santa Anita racetrack in California since December 2018 has led to widespread concern in the horseracing world and beyond, and prompted California Gov. Gavin Newsom to call for closing the racetrack until the safety of the horses can be guaranteed. These mysterious deaths—29 so far—also underscore why we have been calling for urgent reforms within the horseracing industry.

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Photo courtesy of marlenka/istock.com

The causes of the horse deaths at Santa Anita are under investigation, and one of the explanations in play is the rampant drugging of horses to get them onto the track when they should be resting and recovering from injuries.

The Stronach Group, owner of Santa Anita Park, has introduced new safety initiatives, including better veterinary oversight in the form of a five-member team of independent veterinarians and stewards who will provide additional review of horses’ medical, training, and racing history and will have the authority to scratch horses that do not appear fit to run. 

That’s good but it’s not nearly enough. We shouldn’t be waiting for crisis to strike before acting to ensure the safety of racehorses. Horseracing is in a state of crisis, and we need urgent nationwide reform. That’s why we are supporting the Horseracing Integrity Act, H.R. 1754/S. 1820, a federal bill to regulate the use of drugs and medication in racehorses. Almost all American racehorses are injected with race-day medication, a practice banned by nearly every other country, and it’s time for the United States to catch up with the rest of the world.

Last week, we joined horseracing industry leaders to provide a briefing before the Congressional Animal Protection Caucus on the bill, sponsored by Reps. Paul Tonko, D-N.Y., and Andy Barr, R-Ky., in the House, and by Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Martha McSally, R-Ariz., in the Senate. Its passage would create the Horseracing Anti-Doping and Medication Control Authority, a private, not-for-profit regulatory authority established and led by the United States Anti-Doping Agency or USADA, to implement rules regarding the use of permitted and prohibited substances and develop anti-doping education, research, testing, and adjudication programs.

Currently there is no national rulebook for horseracing and 38 separate racing jurisdictions have separate and remarkably different rules that govern the sport in each of their states. This patchwork of laws has jeopardized the safety of horses, led to inconsistent and confusing rules, and given cheaters ample opportunity to game the system, with horses and jockeys paying the price when a horse breaks down on the track.

The Horseracing Integrity Act would address pervasive drug use in the industry while enhancing oversight. The bill includes stiff penalties for cheating that apply nationwide, with possible sanctions including lifetime bans from horseracing, forfeiture of purses, and monetary fines and penalties. It would also, importantly, ban race-day medication of horses, and require an increase in out-of-competition testing.

Under the current system, trainers often know when horses will be tested and which drugs will be screened for. This system has been exploited by racehorse trainers. One trainer, Stephanie Beattie, testified during the 2017 doping trial of two-time Penn National trainer Murray Rojas that she routinely had her horses illegally treated with medications on race day by the same veterinarians who provided drugs to Rojas. “Almost everybody did. 95 to 98%. It was a known practice. We wanted to win, and they weren’t testing for those drugs at that time,” she said.

At Santa Anita, despite the concerns, the organizers continue to race horses. We have called for them to stop until the investigation results have been released and until reforms are implemented in full. Meanwhile, we will be doing all we can to push for the passage of the Horseracing Integrity Act in Congress, and we need your help. You can play a critical role in protecting racehorses by contacting your federal legislators. Ask them to cosponsor this important bill to ensure that America’s equine athletes are safe on the racetracks. 

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, May 15, 2019

An American trophy hunter wants to bring home an endangered cheetah he killed in Namibia

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

The cheetah, an animal capable of top speeds of 75 miles per hour, is racing toward extinction, with just 7,100 animals left in the wild. Recently, in another expression of the callous disregard trophy hunters show for the world’s most endangered and at-risk animals, an American who killed a cheetah in Namibia, has applied to import trophy parts from his kill into the United States.

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Photo by Magda Ehlers from Pexels

If approved, it would be the first time on record that the U.S. government would have authorized the import of a cheetah trophy under the ESA. This could set a terrible precedent and very possibly encourage more trophy hunters to go after cheetahs, exacerbating their tragic fate.

We recently learned that another American has also applied to import the trophy of a black rhino, also killed in Namibia. There are now just 5,500 black rhinos remaining in the wild.

It defies understanding that our government would even allow trophy hunters to apply for permits to import animals fast disappearing from earth and protected under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. Both black rhinos and cheetahs are listed as endangered under ESA and can only be imported if the FWS finds that hunting the animal would enhance the survival of the species. A trophy hunter killing an animal for thrills and bragging rights clearly does not meet that standard.

Sadly, in recent years, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, instead of doing its job of protecting animals listed under the ESA, has enabled an escalation of attacks against them. Beginning in 2017, the FWS reversed more enlightened policies, making it easier for American trophy hunters to import trophies of endangered and threatened animals. The agency also established the International Wildlife Conservation Council, a body stocked with trophy hunters and firearms dealers, tasked to advise on federal wildlife policy decisions—a decision we’ve challenged in court. And last year, the FWS proposed changes to weaken the ESA, which is the bedrock law that protects endangered and threatened animal species and their habitats. Those harmful changes could be finalized any day now.

Late last year, despite our objections, the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service granted an import permit to an American hunter who paid $400,000 to kill a 35-year-old male black rhino in Namibia in 2017.

Scientists warn that at the rate black rhinos and cheetahs are disappearing, they could be lost forever. Like rhinos, cheetahs face a number of threats, including massive habitat loss and degradation. These distinctive, spotted animals, known as the fastest land mammals, have already lost 91% of their historic range and 77% of their remaining habitat is not in protected areas, leaving them open to attack. Cheetahs also become victims of retaliation killings by humans due to conflict with livestock and game farmers, and trafficking of live cheetahs for the illegal pet trade. The last thing they need is to be shot for fun by a trophy hunter.

For trophy hunters, the rarer the animal, the more valuable the trophy is, and the greater the prestige and thrill of killing it. But most Americans know better and oppose trophy hunting, as we've seen from the backlash against trophy hunters that usually follows when they post their conquests on social media. With so few cheetahs and black rhinos left in the world, every animal counts. Please join us and urge the FWS to do the right thing by rejecting these two applications.

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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