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Action Alerts

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.

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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.

Wednesday, May 08, 2019

Urgent alert! Act now to prevent trophy hunting of gray wolves

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

Time is running out for America’s gray wolves. The opportunity to weigh in on a proposed federal rule that would prematurely strip Endangered Species Act protections for the wolves in the lower 48 states ends soon, and it is important that you comment by tomorrow. These animals are still in a fragile state of recovery after years of persecution, and delisting them could have disastrous consequences for their future and for the well-being of the ecosystems in which they live.

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Photo courtesy of hkuchera/iStock.com

The rule has no basis in science, as 100 scientists and scholars attested yesterday in a letter to Interior Secretary David Bernhardt. In strong opposition to the rule, the scientists pointed out that the Endangered Species Act requires that a species be recovered throughout a larger portion of its historic range before it is delisted—a goal that has not been achieved yet for wolves.

In reality, this rule is simply a handout from the Department of the Interior to trophy hunters, trappers and the agribusiness lobby—the latest in more than 100 attacks on wolves and the ESA that we have seen in recent years. Congress and state and federal wildlife management agencies, under pressure from trophy hunting interests, have been pursuing this wolf-delisting agenda for decades, and have been spreading irrational fears and myths about wolves that have no basis in reality.

In a recent report, HSUS researchers debunked U.S. Department of Agriculture data on livestock killed by wolves that state and federal lawmakers have advanced to justify opening up a season on wolves. When our researchers compared livestock losses data released by state agencies and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, they found that the USDA data was highly exaggerated and that wolves accounted for less than 1% of cattle and sheep losses in the states where they live.

We can say for certain that if wolves lose their federal protections, these highly sentient, family-oriented animals will face an onslaught of cruelty, including death by trapping, poisoning, baiting, and hounding. Consider their plight in Wyoming and Idaho, where they are already hunted. Wyoming considers 83% of the state a “predator zone” where trophy hunters and trappers can employ the most unspeakably cruel methods to kill or capture wolves with zero restraint. In Idaho, wildlife officials permitted trophy hunters, trappers, and predator control agents to eradicate its population from nearly 1,000 wolves to 150. Idaho even allows hunters to kill multiple wolves, including at the den in springtime when whole families are vulnerable.

In the Great Lakes region, wolves will face all of those perils and more, because Wisconsin will resume a drastic and unscientific wolf population reduction program and Michigan will open a hunting and trapping season that was soundly rejected by the state’s own voters in the 2014 general election.

Most Americans do not support trophy hunting wolves, and some states have also taken a stand against delisting. Minnesota’s Gov. Tim Walz came out with a strong statement that he supports legislation banning the hunting of wolves and the California Fish and Game Commission recently voted to oppose it. We’ve seen an outpouring of opposition to the proposed rule in recent public hearings in Colorado, California and Oregon.

The wolves need your support too, and they need you to act fast. Please comment at the link below before close of business tomorrow, May 9, and let the Department of the Interior know you oppose this cruel delisting.

Protect gray wolves 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.

Thursday, April 04, 2019

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

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

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

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Photo by Vanessa Mignon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, April 03, 2019

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

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

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

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Photo by the HSUS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Breaking: Chilling video shows poachers slaughtering hibernating black bear mother, cubs in Alaska

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

Today, we are releasing chilling footage of Andrew and Owen Renner’s now infamous—and illegal—black bear trophy hunt in Alaska last April, so you can see what grisly fate awaits the state’s native carnivores if the U.S. government goes ahead with a proposal to roll back protections for these animals on federal lands. Unless we halt that plan, tens of thousands of animals will face the same grim fate as the three bears killed by the Renners.

The video starts out with the father-son duo on skis spotting a mother bear hibernating in a tree hollow on Esther Island, in Prince William Sound. It's apparent from the audio that the bear is aware of the impending danger and makes sounds that indicate her fear. The two pull out their guns and fire several shots into the hollow, killing the bear even as the shrieks of her baby cubs fill the air. The father, Andrew Renner, then shoots the two cubs at point blank range. Next, the men pull the bear’s limp body out of the den. They pause for a victorious and bloody high-five, and a photo with the son holding up the bear’s paw, before proceeding to carve the bear into pieces. Then they roll up the bear skin, stuff it into a plastic bag, and leave with the bloody remains of what was, just hours before, a beautiful animal hibernating in her den with her cubs.

Unknown to the Renners, their depravity was captured by an on-site camera put up as part of a study by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the U.S. Forest Service.

The video also shows that the men returned to the site a couple of days later to hide all evidence of their crime, stuffing the bear cubs’ bodies into a bag, disposing of a tracking collar placed on the mother bear as part of the study, and retrieving their spent bullet casings.

The explosive footage of the Renners’ misdeeds—obtained by the Humane Society of the United States under a public records request—offers a preview of what could happen to Alaska’s bears—and other wildlife—if a rule that allows cruel methods of hunting black bears and other carnivores on National Preserve lands in Alaska goes into effect. The rule seeks to roll back existing protections that prohibit hunting on national preserve lands using cruel methods, like taking black bears, including cubs and sows with cubs, with artificial light at den sites, shooting brown bears over bait, taking wolves and coyotes (including pups) during the denning season, shooting swimming caribou, shooting caribou from motorboats under power, shooting black bears over bait, and using dogs to hunt black bears.

The Renner case serves as a disturbing reminder of how closely the current administration has aligned itself with trophy hunters. Over the past two years, we have seen a consistent rollback of protections for Alaska’s wildlife, despite the poll data suggesting that most Alaskans—not to mention the rest of us—do not want their wildlife placed within the sights of trophy hunters. In 2016, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issued a rule prohibiting similar types of hunting methods on National Wildlife Refuges in Alaska, but Congress and the president overturned the rule in February 2017. In 2015, the FWS issued a rule prohibiting these types of hunting methods in the Kenai National Wildlife refuge, but the agency is now planning to introduce a proposed rule that would repeal those protections, too.

For his crime, Andrew Renner received a five-month prison sentence. Both he and his son had their hunting licenses temporarily suspended, and had to forfeit personal property. But the only reason they were held accountable is because they committed their poaching act in an area where it was not permitted. This slaughter would have been perfectly legal had it happened on some other designated federal lands in Alaska, including National Wildlife Refuges. And if the proposed federal rule goes into effect, more of Alaska’s federal lands will become fair game for trophy hunters like the Renners.

The comment period on the federal rule has now closed, but the final rule has not yet been issued. It’s still not too late and we are asking that you sign our petition to Acting Interior Secretary David Bernhardt asking him to leave previous protections in place. Let him know that you’re opposed to expanding this shameful and cruel activity to more federal lands. Alaska’s National Preserves belong to all Americans, and we need more protections on these lands for the extraordinary species who inhabit them.

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.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Breaking news: USDA proposes rule to crack down on worst puppy mills and roadside zoos; require strengthened veterinary care for dogs

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

The U.S. Department of Agriculture today proposed a new rule to close a loophole in the law that allows puppy breeders and roadside zoo exhibitors, whose licenses have been revoked for severe and multiple Animal Welfare Act violations, to continue doing business as usual by relicensing under a family member’s name. The rule also proposes enhanced veterinary care for animals held by dealers, exhibitors, and research facilities, including annual hands-on veterinary exams and vaccinations for all dogs, and other commonsense measures like requiring that all dogs and cats have regular access to fresh, clean water.

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Photo by Shutterstock

The rule will also require businesses to disclose any animal cruelty convictions before they can obtain a license, and it will prevent those which keep exotic animals as pets from obtaining an exhibitor license to skirt local laws that restrict the private ownership of dangerous wild animals.

We’re pleased to see that the rule mirrors several (though not all) of the improvements we requested in a 2015 petition to the agency to improve standards of care for dogs, and in legal comments we submitted in 2018 regarding the licensing scheme. Under the new rule, licensees will also be required to renew their licenses every three years instead of every year. While we prefer annual renewal, the current process does not require licensees to show compliance with AWA rules before renewal. If the new rule goes into effect, breeders and other licensees will now have to pass an inspection before they can obtain a new license.

The Humane Society Legislative Fund and the Humane Society of the United States have long pressed for such reforms because of concerns about the manner in which the USDA has been regulating puppy mills and other AWA licensees. For instance, USDA citations, warnings and fines have plummeted dramatically over the last two years. We strongly urge that the USDA accurately and diligently document violations; otherwise, a rule change that prevents noncompliant dealers from renewing their licenses will be pointless.

Our review of the USDA’s recent inspection reports also shows that inspectors rarely ever cite dealers for “critical” or “direct” violations anymore—even when they find bleeding, injured or emaciated animals on the property. When violations are not correctly cited, there is no follow-up. USDA must provide follow-up to address suffering animals.

The proposed rule is similar to the bipartisan Welfare of Our Friends (WOOF) Act, H.R. 1002, introduced in the House earlier this year by U.S. Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., Charlie Crist, D-Fla., Glenn Thompson, R-Pa., and Jim McGovern, D-Mass.

Let the USDA know you support measures that will require professional, hands-on veterinary care for dogs, that you support preventing problem pet breeders and other kinds of animal dealers and exhibitors with poor animal care histories from getting a new license, and that you support firm and diligent enforcement of the AWA.

This rule has the potential to improve the lives of tens of thousands of animals now languishing in the squalor of puppy mills and roadside zoos. We can do great good for them by seeing this rule over the finish line together.

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.

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.

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