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Action Alerts

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Horseracing Integrity Act will crack down on drugging, protect racehorses

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

In recent years, major professional sports have taken crucial steps to rid themselves of illegal doping in order to create a more level playing field and to protect athletes from the adverse effects of performance-enhancing drugs. But there has been no such respite for equine athletes in the horse racing industry, where both legal and illegal drugs continue to be used widely.

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Photo courtesy of marlenka/istock.com

Today, U.S. Reps. Paul Tonko, D-N.Y., and Andy Barr, R-Ky., reintroduced the Horseracing Integrity Act, H.R.1754, a federal bill that will better protect America’s racehorses by replacing outdated state-by-state drug and medication rules with one national standard, ban race-day medication and increase out-of-competition testing. The bill has the support of a number of racing industry leaders and animal welfare groups, including the Humane Society Legislative Fund, the Humane Society of the United States, The Jockey Club, and the New York Racing Association. The HSUS testified before the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection in support of this bill when it was introduced in the last Congress.

It is no secret that we have a drug crisis in the horse racing industry, one that has led to the premature deaths of thousands of horses over the years. The problem began when Congress, in 1980, decided to leave it up to states to come up with their own rules on what drugs to allow in horse racing. This has led to a confusing patchwork of state laws with no uniform national standard, and it’s been a boon for unethical trainers who can move from state to state to avoid penalties while continuing to dope racehorses.

The widespread use of both legal and illegal drugs can lead to a multitude of problems, both for the equine athletes and for their riders. Some drugs allow a horse to push through pain, intensifying an injury, or force worn-out horses to compete, which can result in career-ending injuries and even death. Overuse and abuse of drugs administered too close to a race can also mask lameness in horses during pre-race exams—a problem veterinarians and other racing officials have expressed concerns about—endangering both the horse and the rider during a race.

Too many American racehorses are currently also administered race-day drugs to enhance their performance, a practice banned by nearly all other countries. If a horse needs drugs in order to race, that horse should not be on the track.

Support for reform is quickly growing throughout the racing industry as stakeholders recognize the importance and need for clean competition in horse racing. The operators of Belmont Park, Saratoga Race Course, Aqueduct Racetrack, and the Stronach Group which owns several tracks, including Pimlico Race Course, which is home to the Preakness and Keeneland, all support the Horseracing Integrity Act, as does the Water Hay Oats Alliance and members of the Coalition for Horse Racing Integrity.

This bill is a gamechanger for equine athletes. It is a pro-animal, pro-industry measure that will not only help restore fairness to the sport but it will also protect racehorses from the winning-at-all-costs mentality embraced by cheaters. When the bill was introduced in the last Congress it had 132 cosponsors, and we are working to ensure it will cross the finish line this time. Please contact your U.S. representative and urge them to cosponsor the Horseracing Integrity Act, H.R.1754.

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, March 06, 2019

Breaking news: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposes stripping federal protections for wolves

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced today that it will issue a proposed rule to strip Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves in all of the lower 48 states, further jeopardizing animals in a fragile state of recovery after years of persecution. The proposed rule, announced by Acting Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt, would especially affect wolf populations in Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Oregon where they are now protected under the ESA.

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Photo courtesy of hkuchera/iStock.com

The delisting proposal comes just as we release reports confirming the relatively small impact that wolves (and grizzly bears and cougars) have on livestock—the reason usually cited by states and the federal government when announcing wolf delisting decisions. Our report also provides evidence of the U.S. Department of Agriculture using exaggerated data on the numbers of cattle and other farm animals killed by wolves. By comparing livestock losses data released by state agencies and the Fish and Wildlife Service, our researchers found that wolves accounted for less than one percent of cattle and sheep losses in the states where they live. In fact, all predators combined take nine times fewer farm animals than illness, weather, and theft. 

In reality, this delisting rule is nothing more than a handout to trophy hunters, trappers, and the agribusiness lobby. Under pressure from these interests, Congress and state and federal wildlife management agencies have pushed a wolf-delisting agenda for decades. In recent years, we have seen more than 100 attacks on wolves and the ESA, including bills in Congress.

The ESA mandates that delisting decisions be based solely on the best available science, but the Interior Department’s rush to delist gray wolves is not backed by any science at all. Wolf populations are still recovering in the states where they live, and they occupy only a fraction of their historic range.

We already know what happens when states allow wolves to be hunted. At present, in four states, wolves are not protected by the ESA. Of these, in Idaho and Montana alone, more than 3,200 wolves have been killed since 2011. In Wyoming, wolves can be killed without a license by just about any means at any time in more than 80 percent of the state. When protections for Great Lakes region wolves were lifted between 2011 and 2014, nearly 1,500 wolves, including many pups, were killed in unsporting ways, including with cable neck snares, steel-jawed leg-hold traps, packs of hounds, and with bait.

It was just last November when a trophy hunter killed Spitfire, a famous Yellowstone National Park wolf, in Montana as she stepped over an invisible line out of the park. In response, State Sen. Mike Phillips of Montana has introduced a bill to protect Yellowstone’s wolves, the most viewed and photographed in the world.

The Humane Society Legislative Fund and the Humane Society of the United States has been on the frontlines to protect wolves. We’ve won a series of landmark legal cases to keep wolves protected under the ESA, and we have fended off Congressional attempts to reduce protections for these iconic American carnivores. We’ve even advanced and won state ballot initiatives to keep wolves out of the crosshairs and defended those victories in court.

In December, the HSUS and the Center for Biological Diversity proposed an alternative way forward to give wolves the protections they need, including reclassifying gray wolves from “endangered” to “threatened” status under the ESA. Our proposed solution is based on the best available science and sound legal grounds, and we urge the FWS to accept it.

We cannot allow our government to hand over the fate of our most precious wildlife species to those few who seek to kill them under the guise of misplaced and exaggerated fear for livestock, or just to decorate dens and living rooms with their heads and hides, while depriving millions of Americans of the joy of seeing such animals in the wild. Let the FWS know that federal ESA protections should not be stripped from gray wolves across the contiguous United States. Time is running out for our wolves, and it is critical you speak out for them before it’s too late. 

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

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Bill in Congress would ban private ownership of tigers, lions, and other big cats

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

Thousands of tigers, lions, leopards, and other big cats are kept in private homes and poorly run exhibits across the United States. These wild and dangerous animals are forced to spend their lives in inhumane conditions, locked up in small cages that are as far from their natural habitat as can be. And as we have seen time and again, they create a major safety hazard for citizens who live in their vicinity.

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JP Bonnelly/The HSUS

Today, Rep. Michael Quigley, D-Ill., and Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., reintroduced the Big Cat Public Safety Act in the U.S. House of Representatives to tackle this problem head-on. The bill, which has the support of the Humane Society Legislative Fund, the Humane Society of the United States, the National Sheriffs’ Association, and other organizations, will ban the possession of big cat species like tigers and lions by individuals and poorly run animal exhibitions that allow public contact with big cats.

Earlier this month, another shocking reminder of the dangers associated with private ownership of big cats surfaced in Houston, Texas, where officials discovered a tiger living in a small, filthy, unlocked cage in an abandoned house. Since 1990, at least 375 dangerous incidents involving captive big cats have occurred. Twenty-four people have been killed, including four children, and dozens of others have lost limbs or suffered other often-traumatic injuries. In many cases when these animals escape their often-insufficiently secure caging, the animals are shot and killed, often by first responders not trained to deal with such situations. In a number of cases, people have even encountered abandoned tiger cubs wandering the streets.

America has a big cat crisis, and it is largely the consequence of a reckless and indifferent industry that breeds these animals for an activity known as cub-petting. At fairs and roadside zoos, for fees ranging from $10 to $500, members of the public can feed, play with, and take photos of themselves and others with baby tigers and lions.

The infant big cats often endure heartbreaking abuse, as documented by HSUS’s undercover investigations at two roadside zoos. To prepare the animals for public handling, the babies are torn from their mothers shortly after birth. This is traumatic for both the mother and the babies because normally, tiger and lion cubs stay with their mothers for about two years. The babies are deprived of proper nutrition and maternal care necessary for normal development and instead endure rough public handling and physical abuse from handlers to keep them under control, all while being deprived of sleep and regular feedings. They often suffer from parasites and other ailments.

When the cats grow too large for public handling in just a few months, they are discarded, usually by being warehoused at roadside zoos or pseudo-sanctuaries, or by being sold as pets, and new baby tigers, bred just for petting, are introduced. And so the cycle continues.

The tigers discarded from cub-petting may also feed the illegal market for animal parts used in traditional Asian medicine. With so many homeless tigers and no system to track them nationwide, the animals are often worth more dead than alive. Through Humane Society International, we’re trying to stem the tide of tiger trafficking and tiger farming. But as long as the United States continues to turn a blind eye to this problem on our own soil, we are hardly well-positioned to press other countries to confront these cruelties.

The HSUS knows something about what tigers and other big cats need, because they care for them at the Fund for Animals Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch, along with hundreds of other animals. They're periodically invited to advise and support law enforcement agencies that are called upon to respond to the range of dangerous situations that arise with these animals in communities across the nation. Alexander, one of Black Beauty's tigers, was rescued along with about a dozen other dangerous wild animals, after their owner abandoned them, leaving them without food or water. His story had a happy ending, but sadly, the outcomes for most tigers owned as pets or by roadside zoos aren’t as positive.

No one needs to pet a tiger or a lion or keep one at home as a pet. It’s not a right or even a privilege that society owes to individuals. It’s a formula for disaster, danger, and fatal outcomes for both people and animals. We painfully recall the incident in Zanesville, Ohio, in 2011, when the owner of a private menagerie released dozens of big cats before committing suicide, requiring law enforcement to hunt down the animals while risking their own lives. By taking dangerous animals out of the hands of unqualified people, the Big Cat Public Safety Act creates a common-sense solution for a problem that jeopardizes our citizens and creates the worst possible outcomes for the animals involved. Please contact your members of Congress and urge them to cosponsor this important bill and get it enacted soon.

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

Wednesday, February 06, 2019

Bipartisan bill in Congress will crack down on puppy mill cruelty

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

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

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Photo by Shutterstock

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Bipartisan bills introduced in Congress to ban shark fin trade in U.S., end malicious cruelty to animals

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

The 116th Congress began work today on rooting out some of the worst forms of animal cruelty in the world, with House members reintroducing two important bipartisan bills. One would ban malicious acts of animal cruelty and bestiality, and the other would prohibit the destructive trade in shark fins within our borders.

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AwaylGl, iStock.com

These are issues most Americans can agree on, and both bills are long-running priorities for our Humane Society Legislative Fund staff. The Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture (PACT) Act, sponsored by Reps. Ted Deutch, D-Fla., and Vern Buchanan, R-Fla, would make the most malicious acts of animal cruelty—including crushing, burning, drowning, suffocating, and impaling animals and sexually exploiting them—felony crimes under federal law. And the Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act, introduced by Reps. Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan, D-Northern Mariana Islands, and Michael McCaul, R-Texas, would ban the shark fin trade across the United States, strengthening the moral claims of our nation as a leader on ending the worldwide trade in shark fins.

The Humane Society of the United States has successfully pushed for all 50 states to declare malicious acts of animal cruelty as felonies and in 2010, we helped pass a federal law, the Animal Crush Video Prohibition Act, banning the trade in so-called “crush videos”—obscene videos that show animals being subjected to terrible cruelty and suffering for the titillation of perverted viewers. But there’s a 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 prosecutors unless an obscene video has been produced. 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.

The U.S. Senate has unanimously passed the PACT Act twice before, and it earned 284 bipartisan House cosponsors and over 200 law enforcement endorsements in the 115th Congress. The only reason this legislation has not passed the full House in past years is because it was repeatedly blocked from coming to the floor by former House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., who is no longer in Congress. With a new Judiciary committee chairman, Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., chances that the bill will finally become law this year are much brighter.

"This is commonsense, bipartisan legislation to bring some compassion to our animal laws," said Congressman Deutch. "For many Americans, animal welfare is an important policy issue, and the idea of animal abuse is abhorrent. By building on state and local laws, Congress should act to guarantee a level of protection for animals across the country by criminalizing these inhumane acts. We've acted in the past to stop the horrific trend of animal abuse videos; now it's time to make the underlying acts of cruelty a crime as well."

"The torture of innocent animals is abhorrent and should be punished to the fullest extent of the law," Buchanan said. "Protecting animals from cruelty is a top priority for me and I look forward to working with Congressman Deutch on this important issue."

"The PACT Act is crucial to the fight against animal cruelty. Combined with the recent passage of the PAWS Act and the FBI’s inclusion of animal cruelty within its National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS), this recent uptick in federal-level action in fighting animal cruelty in all its forms is indicative of the acceptance of the seriousness of animal cruelty. Research has repeatedly confirmed the link between animal cruelty and human violence, and the PACT Act will address some of the most egregious forms of cruelty," said Chelsea Rider, Director of the National Sheriff Association's National Law Enforcement Center on Animal Abuse.

The Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act will prohibit the import, export, possession, trade, and distribution of shark fins and products containing shark fins. If it passes, it would reinforce U.S. leadership in global shark conservation, strengthen the existing U.S. ban on shark finning, and take our nation out of the destructive global shark fin trade once and for all.

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Photo by Vanessa Mignon

Although most of the demand for shark fins is in Asia, the United States is an active participant in the trade. Government records show that in 2017 we imported shark products worth more than $1.6 million, with the majority of that value coming from fins. The United States also is an end market as well as a transit point for shark fins obtained in countries where finning is unregulated or where finning laws are not sufficiently enforced.

Shark finning is an extremely cruel practice: fishermen slice the fins off the sharks and dump them back into the ocean to drown, bleed to death, or be eaten alive by other fish. To meet the 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.

“The strong, bipartisan support for this legislation sends a clear message that we have to pay more attention to protecting the Earth’s oceans and the life within those oceans. Banning the sale of shark fins to help end this wasteful and cruel practice is important, but just a small step on the way to giving the oceans the full respect they must have in federal law. Ultimately, all life on Earth depends on the health of the oceans,” said Congressman Sablan.

“I am proud to help introduce the Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act, which builds upon existing federal law and state initiatives to ban the sale, purchase, or possession of shark fins in the United States. As the largest economy in the world, how we conduct our commerce has a profound impact on global markets and greatly influences others’ economic behavior. It is long since time we leverage our economic might against shark-finning and work to counter the larger issue of animal poaching and the illicit trafficking of animal parts,” said Congressman McCaul.

We are excited to see these bills move through Congress and finally pass into law this year, but we cannot do it without you. Please contact your Members of Congress and ask them to cosponsor the PACT Act the Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act. There is no place for animal cruelty in a civilized society, and it is time our laws catch up with the times.

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

Thursday, June 21, 2018

From Atlanta to Umbabat, American trophy hunters pose a threat to endangered species

This week, the International Wildlife Conservation Council, a Department of the Interior advisory group dominated by big-game trophy hunters, held its second public meeting, in Atlanta. This advisory group seeks to promote the trophy hunting of charismatic animal species on the taxpayer dime—and questions and discussions at the meeting underscored that the council aims to weaken existing protections for threatened and endangered species, all to make it easier for trophy hunters to import animal trophies into the United States.

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Skye, the lion, who was allegedly killed by a
trophy hunter

Council members appeared miffed by the widespread negative perception of trophy hunting and attributed this to the American public’s lack of understanding about the purported multitude of conservation benefits that they themselves attribute to trophy hunting. They also sounded the customary—and false—note that animals will go extinct if trophy hunting were stopped.

This council’s membership is stacked with trophy hunting enthusiasts, celebrity hunters, and industry lobbyists, and the two public proceedings they have held so far have demonstrated how it’s imbalanced and outside the mainstream of American views on conservation and wildlife protection. The council takes the Orwellian approach that the only way to save wild animals from going extinct is to shoot them.

A 2017 analysis found that trophy hunting has relatively low economic value as a wildlife-related activity. While tourism contributes to at most 5.1 percent of the GDP among the eight African study countries, the total economic contribution of trophy hunting is at most about 0.03 percent of that figure. Foreign hunters make up less than 0.1 percent of tourists on average and they contribute 0.78 percent or less of the $17 billion in overall tourism spending. Trophy hunting’s contribution to tourism employment is only 0.76 percent or less of average direct tourism employment.       

Moreover, the trophy hunting of imperiled species is biologically unsustainable. Trophy hunters target the biggest and strongest animals with impressive tusks, horns, manes, and other distinguishing characteristics. Science has shown that trophy hunting alters the biological characteristics and population dynamics of the hunted species, too.   

In a terrible coincidence, just days before the Atlanta meeting, we learned of the alleged killing of a male lion named Skye in the Umbabat Private Nature Reserve adjacent to the Kruger National Park. Reportedly, the lion was baited to facilitate the hunt; in any event, Skye has not been seen since June 7 when the hunt took place, according to local sources, and it’s possible that an American hunter could be responsible for his death. 

Skye, with his stunning mane and majestic posture, is a favorite subject of wildlife photographers and tourists. He’s a dominant male who heads a pride known to frequent both the Kruger National Park and Umbabat; the pride consists of three cubs, three sub-adults, and six lionesses.

One of the pride’s young cubs has reportedly been killed by a competing pride following Skye’s disappearance. If the cub’s killing is confirmed, it is a somber reminder that trophy hunting of lions carries a significant ecological price tag affecting not just the animal hunted but also the pride members left behind.  

The Umbabat Private Nature Reserve and the Mpumalanga Parks and Tourism Agency, the provincial authority that grants permits for trophy hunts, have vehemently denied that the hunted lion was Skye. However, they have not publicly presented photographic evidence of the hunted animal to verify this; nor have they granted third party requests to view and examine the skin of the hunted lion. Photographs are especially critical to establishing a hunted animal’s identity. Skye, for example, has a distinguishing scar under his left eye and S-shaped scar on his right flank.

Even if the killed lion is not Skye, it is a cause for alarm that lions protected in Kruger National Park could fall victim to senseless and bloody trophy hunting when they step over its invisible geographical boundaries into the adjoining private reserves. More than 1.4 million visitors flock to Kruger National Park each year to view wildlife, including lions, bringing in tens of millions of dollars and thousands of jobs. In South Africa, trophy hunting brings in only 1.2 percent of the income brought in by tourism. Math makes the indictment real: trophy hunting is robbing South Africa of the very thing that tourists will pay to see, over and over again: live lions and other animals. A lion or elephant can be enjoyed alive by hundreds or thousands of photographers and tourists—but only killed once by a trophy hunter.

It’s a long way from Atlanta to Umbabat, but there is a direct connection between the formation of the International Wildlife Conservation Council and the growing threat to threatened and endangered animal species in Africa and elsewhere. The United States has long been the world’s largest importer of lion hunting trophies—even though the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed African lions as threatened and endangered in 2016, the agency continues to allow American hunters to import lion trophies from certain African countries, including South Africa. The Service is responsible for forging an intelligent conservation policy and it would be unlawful for it to rely on advice from a council stacked with big-game trophy hunters. South Africa has approximately 2,800 of the 20,000 lions in the world, and we need to do what we can to keep every one of them alive.

Please take a minute to send a letter to USFWS and ask them to deny any application to import wild lion trophies from South Africa.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Animals fare better in the Senate Farm Bill as it makes it way out of committee

Today, the U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee approved its Farm Bill—and it’s a much brighter picture for animals than the House counterpart bill.  We are grateful to Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) and Ranking Democrat Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) for working together to craft a bipartisan bill that avoids major anti-animal provisions and includes an important pro-animal measure. 

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The HSUS

A highlight of the Senate bill is that it contains nothing like the outrageous power grab Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) tacked on the House bill. Rep King’s measure aims to impose a lowest-common-denominator approach across the country. Under the King amendment, if any one state permits the production or sale of a particular agricultural product, no matter how hazardous the product or unacceptable the production process, every other state could have to do so as well. This could undermine hundreds of duly-enacted laws reflecting the public will on a wide range of concerns—for example, bans on the sale of horse and dog meat, laws against the sale of products that are the result of extreme confinement of farm animals, and sales of  dogs from puppy mills, as well as a host of other issues such as food safety, child labor, pesticide exposure, diseased livestock, manure management, alcohol, raw milk, seed standards, fire-safe cigarettes, import of firewood free from invasive pests, and labeling of flagship state products such as catfish, wild-caught salmon, maple syrup, and wine. A bipartisan group of 119 Representatives and more than 200 organizations from across the political spectrum —including FreedomWorks, Fraternal Order of Police, Natural Resources Defense Council, Consumers Union, National Farmers Union, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, United Farm Workers, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, National Conference of State Legislatures, and National League of Cities—have joined us in opposing King’s dangerous legislation. We will work to ensure that the Senate bill remains free of this poison pill, and push to keep it out of the final Senate/House package, as we were able to do in the 2014 Farm Bill when King last tried this.

We are thrilled that Chairman Roberts and Ranking Member Stabenow included, in the Farm Bill they brought to the committee, essential language mirroring the Pet and Women Safety (PAWS) Act, S. 322, introduced by Sens. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) and Dean Heller (R-Nev.). The PAWS provision will help protect battered partners and their pets by extending current federal domestic violence protections to include pets, and authorizing grant money to help domestic violence shelters accommodate pets (only 3 percent currently allow pets) or arrange for pet shelter. Many delay their decision to leave a violent situation out of fear for their pets’ safety, a legitimate fear considering up to 84 percent of women entering shelters reported that their partners abused or killed the family pet. While 32 states have adopted similar legislation, PAWS will provide protection across the country. The PAWS legislation is supported by a broad network of domestic violence, law enforcement, veterinary, and animal welfare organizations.

We’re also relieved that Sen. David Perdue (R-GA) decided not to pursue his amendment to eliminate the Animal Welfare Act requirement that USDA conduct annual inspections at animal research laboratories. Having an inspection once a year to check for compliance with minimal standards on such issues as food, water, and basic veterinary care is certainly not an onerous burden. It would be a terrible mistake to make these federal inspections less frequent, especially since 20 percent of research facilities were cited for violations during just a 6-month period last year. Rep. David Rouzer (R-N.C.) had filed a similar amendment to the House Farm Bill, but it did not get a floor vote.

As the Farm Bill heads to the Senate floor, we hope there will be further opportunities to consider these additional worthy animal welfare provisions:

  • Checkoff: Opportunities for Fairness in Farming (OFF) Act, S. 741/H.R. 1753, to make agricultural commodity checkoff programs—such as those for beef, pork, and dairy—more transparent and accountable and prevent checkoff dollars from being misused to lobby against animal welfare reforms and family farmers. This legislation is endorsed by more than 80 farm organizations representing over 250,000 family farmers and ranchers, as noted in this op-ed.
  • Animal Fighting: Parity in Animal Cruelty Enforcement (PACE) Act, S. 2971/H.R. 4202, to clarify that federal prohibitions against dogfighting and cockfighting activity affecting interstate or foreign commerce apply to all U.S. jurisdictions, including the U.S. territories. This provision will protect animals from vicious cruelty, protect communities from criminal activity often linked to animal fighting such as drug trafficking and gangs, protect public health and the food supply from bird flu and other disease transmission, and enhance enforcement of federal animal fighting law across the U.S. It was incorporated into the House Farm Bill by an overwhelming bipartisan vote of 359-51.
  • Dog and Cat Meat: Dog and Cat Meat Prohibition Act, S. 1406, to ban the slaughter, trade, import, and export of dogs and cats for human consumption. While uncommon in this country, the practice does occur and only six states have laws against it. This legislation, incorporated into the House Farm Bill by voice vote in committee, will prevent the appalling dog and cat meat trade from taking hold in the U.S. and strengthen our hand in seeking to end it worldwide.

We look forward to working with Chairman Roberts and Senator Stabenow to sustain the pro-animal positions in the bill approved by the Agriculture Committee today, and build on this package as the Farm Bill advances.  As always, our success will depend on your continued engagement. Contact your two U.S. Senators today and ask that the Farm Bill protects animals.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Abandoned puppy at airport highlights need for PAWS Act

A 3-month-old Chihuahua puppy named Chewy was abandoned inside a Las Vegas airport restroom two weekends ago. The heartbreaking note from Chewy’s owner highlights a critical policy issue that should be a call to action for lawmakers.

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Photo courtesy of Connor and Millie’s Dog Rescue
Chewy after being rescued by a Good Samaritan

The note read: "Hi! I’m Chewy! My owner was in an abusive relationship and couldn’t afford me to get on the flight. She didn’t want to leave me with all her heart but she has NO other option. My ex-boyfriend kicked my dog when we were fighting and he has a big knot on his head. He probably needs a vet. I love Chewy sooo much—please love and take care of him."

Fortunately a Good Samaritan found Chewy and got him to a local dog rescue, where he is recovering and doing well. But how many pets like Chewy are injured or killed in homes where there is domestic abuse? And how many human victims remain in dangerous situations rather than leave a beloved pet behind with an abusive spouse or partner?

In Congress, U.S. Sens. Gary Peters, D-Mich., and Dean Heller, R-Nev., and U.S. Reps. Katherine Clark, D-Mass., and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., have introduced critical legislation to help domestic violence victims and their beloved pets. The Pet and Women Safety (PAWS) Act, S. 322 and H.R. 909, would amend the Violence Against Women Act to extend existing federal domestic violence protections to four-legged family members.

In addition to providing greater protections for human and animal victims, the PAWS Act would provide grant money for domestic violence shelters so they can accommodate pets. Right now, only three percent of these shelters are believed to allow pets, presenting another barrier for victims who want to get help but don’t want to leave their animals behind and in harm’s way. But with the proper resources, many more shelters will be able to provide refuge for all members of the family who need protection, whether they walk on two legs or four. Had the PAWS Act been passed, it may have helped Chewy stay with his owner.

Thirty-two states have enacted pet protective order legislation, allowing courts to include pets in restraining orders that prevent suspected abusers from having access to their victims. But under these differing state laws, what happens when a domestic violence victim must go to live with family in another state where pets are not covered under protective orders? The PAWS Act establishes a national policy on the issue and encourages states to expand their legal protections for pets in abusive households.

Chewy1
Photo courtesy of Connor and Millie’s Dog Rescue

Domestic violence and animal cruelty often go hand in hand. A seminal study in 1997 found that between 71 and 83 percent of women entering domestic violence shelters reported that their partners had threatened, injured, or killed the family pet. For abusers, harming or threatening to harm a beloved dog or cat is a way of exerting control and intimidation, trading on the victim’s emotional connection with a pet, and using that love as a lever to prevent an escape from an abusive and sometimes life-threatening situation.

A Campbellton, Fla., man, charged with aggravated assault and domestic violence toward his live-in girlfriend, shot the family’s dog twice, beat her with a rifle, and later with an ax, until she was dead. In Amsterdam, N.Y., a man slit the throat of his girlfriend’s cat and threw the cat out a window, and two days later, he attempted to strangle his girlfriend. Another woman was threatened while she was forced to watch her cat tied to a tree and killed with fireworks by her abuser.

All over the country, the examples are endless and horrifying, illustrating a direct link between animal cruelty and violence against people. Those who torture and abuse animals are the ones most likely to physically harm a human family member.

Chewy got away to safety, and so did the owner who loved him dearly. The passage of this legislation would show that Congress recognizes the seriousness of domestic violence and provides other victims and their families with the help they need. There is simply no reason to deny these protections to pets, and the people who love them. 

Contact your legislators today and tell them to support the Pet and Women Safety (PAWS) Act. 

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Animal protection rules could be chopped by regulation ax

In the first days of the 115th Congress, lawmakers are poised to take up the so-called Midnight Rules Relief Act and the REINS Act, which both have the potential to undermine Presidential authority and set the stage for the elimination of popular and bipartisan rules, taking an ax to a circumstance that requires far more precision and a more merits-based analysis on rules. This potentially includes a profound impact on rules that implement animal protection laws and improve enforcement of them.

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Photo courtesy of The HSUS

The Midnight Rules Relief Act of 2017, H.R. 21, would amend the Congressional Review Act to allow en bloc disapproval of multiple regulations finalized during the last year of a President’s term. Such action would prevent due consideration of the merits of individual regulations. For animal protection rules adopted during the Obama Administration, including in the final year of his term, most have been many years in the making, have elicited overwhelming numbers of favorable public comments, and have enjoyed strong, bipartisan congressional support.

For example, a bipartisan group of 182 Representatives and 42 Senators wrote to USDA in support of the anti-horse soring rule, which corrects deficiencies in USDA’s current regulations in ways that mirror provisions in the PAST Act, legislation that had 273 House cosponsors and 50 Senate cosponsors in the 114th Congress. The PAST Act was introduced largely to force the agency to fix these very problems, many of which were identified by a damning 2010 USDA Office of Inspector General report urging regulatory changes to overhaul the existing enforcement regimen. And the agency itself warned horse sorers that it was considering some of these changes in public notices going back to 1979. So this rule is a long time in coming. But this rule, likely to be finalized within the next few days, could be characterized as a “midnight rule” and eliminated, despite the enormous number of lawmakers from both parties who have urged its adoption. It would be a terrible mistake for Congress to sweep them away and undercut these reasonable efforts—in the works for years, after getting substantial input from Congress—to ensure that animal protection laws are carried out effectively. There was nothing nefarious or undercutting about this rulemaking, and if anything, the Obama Administration has dragged its feet on it, rather than rushing it through at the last minute.

Another example is a rule made final in July that closes a loophole for the processing of downer calves—animals too sick, injured, or weak to walk—to prohibit sending them into the food supply, just as was done for downer cattle by USDA regulations in 2009. A series of undercover investigations documented that downer calves are subjected to the same heinous abuse as adult downer cows to get them on their feet for inspection, and showed the serious food safety concerns from eating calves unable to stand, as there were for downer cattle. This rule was anything but precipitously adopted—the agency had said back in 2013 that it would update its regulations to close the loophole—and a bipartisan group of 92 Representatives and 14 Senators urged USDA and OMB to finish this rulemaking in letters sent in 2014 and 2015.

One report found that rules issued during the “midnight” or presidential transition period spent even more time in the rulemaking process and received even more extensive vetting than other rules. That’s our experience with the measures we’ve encouraged final action upon. Analysis of all economically significant rulemakings finalized since 1999 showed that such rules issued during the transition period took on average 3.6 years to complete compared to 2.8 years for such rules issued at other times during a term.

The Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny (REINS) Act of 2017, H.R. 26, would require that both houses of Congress approve a major rule (including those issued during the 60 legislative/session days prior to adjournment of the previous session), with no alteration, within a 70-day window. If both chambers are unable to swiftly approve a major rule, it would not take effect and reconsideration during that Congress would be precluded. By doing nothing, Congress would prevent existing laws from being implemented, including common sense, non-controversial rules affecting animal welfare. The bill forces expedited floor consideration by both chambers of resolutions to approve major rules and to disapprove nonmajor rules, and it bars judicial review of any actions taken under the REINS Act.

Congress already sets the boundaries for agency rulemaking, making the REINS Act needless and redundant. It is already the case that agencies can only exercise authority that has been delegated by Congress in authorizing legislation, and if agencies overstep their authority, judicial scrutiny can be invoked and agency actions can be reversed.

We urge Congress to reject both of these unwarranted bills, which take a sledgehammer approach to regulations and could negate well-considered and broadly supported rules to implement and enforce animal protection laws.

Contact your U.S. Representative TODAY and urge him or her to oppose the Midnight Rules Relief Act of 2017, H.R. 21 and the REINS Act of 2017, H.R. 26.

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

A Trump presidency would be a threat to animals everywhere

The Humane Society Legislative Fund today announces its endorsement of Hillary Clinton for President, and the launch of a new ad campaign to inform voters that a Donald Trump presidency would be a threat to animals everywhere. In our view, Trump represents the greatest threat ever to federal policy-making and implementation of animal protection laws, and we are taking the unusual step of wading actively into a presidential campaign.

 

HSLF has members who are Democrats, Republicans, and Independents, and supports lawmakers and candidates from all over the political spectrum. We evaluate candidates based on a single, non-partisan criterion—their support for animal protection—and do not default to one party or the other.

The next president will have an enormous impact over animal protection in this country for the next four to eight years, and the stakes are high with policy decisions overseen by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, National Institutes of Health, and other executive agencies. When you consider the potential for advancing animal welfare reforms at the federal level, or rolling back the recent gains and rulemaking actions, there could not be a greater contrast among the White House hopefuls. One ticket has a clear, compelling record of support for animal protection, while the other has assembled a team of advisors and financial supporters tied in with trophy hunting, puppy mills, factory farming, horse slaughter, and other abusive industries. The names that Trump’s campaign has floated for engagement on Interior and Agriculture department issues are a “who’s who” of zealous anti-animal welfare activists.

We’ve all seen the gruesome photographs of Trump’s adult sons documenting their trophy kills, which include a leopard, Cape buffalo, waterbuck, and other exotic creatures. Donald Jr. even holds up the tail of an African elephant he’s apparently shot. Both African elephants and leopards are listed as “threatened” with extinction under the provisions of the U.S. Endangered Species Act. That means that the Trump sons use their fortunes and vacation time to travel the world amassing the heads and hides of the rarest and most majestic animals on earth—a pastime more on par with the type of killing done by Walter Palmer (the wealthy dentist who shot Cecil the lion) than it is with rank-and-file sportsmen or conservationists. 

Troublingly, Donald Jr. has even been floated as a possible Interior Secretary. Both sons at the very least would be Trump’s top advisors and strategists on trophy hunting issues. The risk of having a globe-trotting trophy hunter at or near the helm at Interior, or having the ear of the President, should be a terrifying prospect for any animal advocate. The administration is responsible not only for policies involving hundreds of millions of acres of federal lands, but also wildlife law enforcement, international treaties on trade and conservation, and import policies for wild animal parts and trophies.

It’s not just family members floated for cabinet posts. Politico reported that oil tycoon Forrest Lucas is a “front-runner” to be Interior Secretary, in addition to serving as a member of Trump’s agriculture advisory committee. Lucas is the money man behind the so-called Protect the Harvest, a front group devoted to fighting animal welfare organizations at every turn, on everything. A peevish advocate for trophy hunting, puppy mills, and big agribusiness, Lucas has never met a case of animal exploitation he wouldn’t defend. He personally financed an attack on Proposition B in Missouri—one of the animal welfare movement’s most important ballot measures, designed to impose humane breeding standards for dogs and crack down on puppy mills.

Lucas and his group also opposed efforts to establish felony-level penalties for malicious cruelty against dogs, cats, and horses; promote the spaying and neutering of pets; and provide adequate shelter for dogs to protect them from the elements. He formed a super PAC specifically to defeat animal advocates.

Recent reports suggest that Iowa factory farming mogul Bruce Rastetter may be Trump’s leading candidate for Secretary of Agriculture. Rastetter has made a fortune off the kind of industrial agricultural practices that family farmers and animal advocates have fought for decades, and was connected to Trump through New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who vetoed a state ban on cruel pig gestation crates in a sop to Iowa’s pork industry. Considering Rastetter’s brother is CEO of a company that builds gestation crates, we have good reason to be concerned about the potential for crony capitalist dealings in a Trump administration.

Other agriculture advisors to Trump include: Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad and former Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman, both of whom signed onto the federal lawsuit to invalidate California’s law restricting the sale of eggs from barren battery cages; former Iowa state Rep. Annette Sweeney, who along with Branstad ushered the nation’s first “ag-gag” bill into law to punish whistleblowers and shield agribusiness from public scrutiny; Texas state agriculture commissioner Sid Miller, who called Meatless Mondays “treasonous”;  Oklahoma state Sen. Eddie Fields, author of the bill overturning the state’s 50-year ban on horse slaughter for human consumption; Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, who signed that horse slaughter bill into law; and Missouri state Sen. Brian Munzlinger, who sponsored bills to weaken the voter-approved standards for puppy mills and deregulate canned hunts. Trump is surrounding himself with the leading anti-animal advocates in the United States, and at this stage, it appears many of them will not only have a front row seat in the Trump administration, but they’ll be at the steering wheel as a Trump administration examines food and agriculture and wildlife policy issues.  

While Trump has advocates for trophy hunting, puppy mills, factory farming, and horse slaughter on his side, Hillary Clinton has a strong record of taking a stand against many of these issues. She published an animal welfare statement on her campaign website, noting that “[t]he way our society treats animals is a reflection of our humanity.” Clinton highlights the humane issues she plans to tackle as President, as well as her strong record on animal protection in the U.S. Senate and as Secretary of State. She pledges to crack down on abuses such as wildlife trafficking, puppy mills, and horse slaughter, and to support a federal anti-cruelty statute and more humane treatment of farm animals.

During her eight years in the U.S. Senate, Clinton was a strong and consistent supporter of animal protection policies, earning a 100 percent score on the Humane Scorecard in the 108th Congress, a perfect 100+ score in the 109th, and an 83 in the 110th. She co-sponsored legislation dealing with horse slaughter and animal fighting, as well as bills to stop the processing of “downer” livestock and crack down on abusive puppy mills where dogs are treated like production machines. She led efforts in the 108th and 109th Congresses to stop the overuse of antibiotics in farm animals, which allow them to be crammed into overcrowded, stressful, and unsanitary factory farms. As a Senator, Clinton also signed letters requesting more funds for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to step up enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act, the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, and the federal animal fighting law. During the 2008 campaign, she voiced concern over the slaughter of sick and injured cows whose meat was channeled into the national school lunch program. As Secretary of State, Clinton led international efforts to crack down on wildlife trafficking.

She continued her leadership on animal protection later through the Clinton Foundation, and helped to launch a major campaign to fight the illegal ivory trade and poaching of elephants. It’s telling that the Clintons saw animal protection as part of the larger landscape for charitable work and important enough to be included among their philanthropy. Trump is a billionaire but does not seem to have much in the way of charitable instincts at all. He says he’s given millions to charity, but the Washington Post reported that Trump made only one charitable gift between 2008 and May 2016, totaling less than $10,000; and used funds from the Donald J. Trump Foundation to buy a six-foot-tall portrait of himself and to settle lawsuits involving his for-profit business. By contrast, Bill and Hillary Clinton personally gave just under $15 million during roughly that same period (2007 to 2014), or around 10% of their total income. That doesn’t account for the Clinton Foundation, which has raised over $2 billion for global health and wellness, economic development and climate change reduction efforts (and more) around the world. 

While the Clintons have owned pets much of their adult lives, it appears that Donald Trump never has. If elected, Trump would be the first president since Harry Truman without a pet in the White House. It’s hardly unusual for pets in our lives to humanize us, and to bring into sharper focus the importance of national policies to help animals. The Clintons seem to have long felt the pull of animals, while the Trumps have not, with two Trump sons being better known for killing animals as a recreational pursuit. Donald Trump has even called for the Food and Drug Administration to stop regulating pet food—not long after thousands of dogs and cats were sickened or died from consuming contaminated pet food and treats. It’s hard to imagine that he empathizes with the two-thirds of American households who have beloved pets as part of their families.

When HSLF evaluates the presidential contenders, it’s important to look at their running mates, too. U.S. Senator Tim Kaine is currently a co-sponsor of the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act to strengthen the federal law against the “soring” of show horses—using caustic chemicals and other painful substances to injure the horses’ hooves and legs to induce a high-stepping gait. When he previously served as Governor of Virginia, he was attentive to animal issues, and signed legislation strengthening laws against animal fighting, restricting the operation of puppy mills, requiring a bittering agent in antifreeze to prevent poisoning of animals, and maintaining a ban on the use of gas chambers for animal euthanasia.

When Mike Pence served in Congress from 2001 to 2013, he had more of a mixed record on animal protection, with scores on the HSLF Humane Scorecard ranging from 0 to 56. He supported legislation on animal fighting, crush videos, pets in disasters, service dogs for veterans, and horse slaughter, but opposed animal welfare measures on primates as exotic pets, stopping the slaughter of downer livestock, importing sport-hunted polar bear trophies, killing Yellowstone bison, protecting wild horses from slaughter, prohibiting bear baiting on federal lands, and conserving rare cats and canids, sea otters, marine turtles, and cranes. As governor of Indiana, he signed a pro-animal bill requiring animal shelters to spay or neuter dogs and cats before adoption. His addition to the ticket does little to assuage concerns about whether or not a Trump administration would be supportive of animal-friendly policy initiatives.

Americans who care about protecting wildlife, combating large-scale cruelties like animal fighting and puppy mills, securing humane treatment of animals in agriculture, and addressing other challenges that face animals in our nation, must become active over the next few weeks to elect a president who shares our values. Please sign our pledge, and spread the word that voters who care about the humane treatment of animals—whether they are Democrats, Republicans, or Independents—should vote for Hillary Clinton for President.

HSLF is a nonpartisan organization that evaluates candidates based only on a single criterion: where they stand on animal welfare. HSLF does not judge candidates based on party affiliation or any other issue.

Paid for by Humane Society Legislative Fund and not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee. HSLF, 1255 23rd Street, NW, Suite 455, Washington, DC 20037.

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