Commenting Guidelines

    • The HSLF invites comments—pro and con. Keep them clean. Keep them lively. Adhere to our guiding philosophy of non-violence. And please understand, this is not an open post. We publish samplers of comments to keep the conversation going. We correct misspellings and typos when we find them.

Equines

Friday, November 08, 2019

Louisville, KY, urges Sens. Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul to stop blocking efforts to end horse soring, pass PAST Act

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

Council members of the largest city in Kentucky last night adopted a resolution with a strong message for the state’s two U.S. Senators, Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul: co-sponsor and help enact the Prevent All Soring Tactics Act to end the torture of Tennessee walking horses and other related breeds.

_DO_0681_170245 (1)
Photo by the HSUS


The PAST Act would close loopholes in the Horse Protection Act that have, for decades, allowed violators in the Tennessee walking horse show world to continue the abusive practice of “soring” – the intentional infliction of pain on a horse’s legs or hooves – to make the horse perform an artificial, high-stepping show ring gait known as the “Big Lick.” Because the U.S. Department of Agriculture has allowed the industry to police itself, those who hurt horses face minimal repercussions, get deferred disqualifications, and are typically allowed to continue carrying out the abuses that got them disqualified in the first place. PAST would replace the self-policing system with third party, independent inspectors who are trained, licensed and assigned by the USDA. The bill would also ban the devices integral to soring, and would strengthen penalties for soring.

Unfortunately, Sens. McConnell and Paul are co-sponsoring competing legislation, introduced by Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and supported by those engaged in horse soring, which allows the industry to continue policing itself with no accountability. Their sham alternative bill would actually make the problem worse by further weakening the USDA’s already limited authority and handing off more power to the perpetrators, while doing nothing to end the use of chains, heavy stacked shoes and other soring devices, or to establish meaningful penalties.

There’s plenty of momentum in Congress to pass the PAST Act into law this year. The bill has already cleared the House of Representatives by an overwhelming bipartisan majority of 333-96 in July, and a Senate companion bill introduced in April by Sens. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, and Mark Warner, D-Va., received its 50th cosponsor last week. With many other senators (including previous cosponsors) expected to support the bill, we clearly have the votes needed for passage. But the bill cannot progress unless Sen. McConnell brings it to the Senate floor for a vote.

That's why we are excited about the vote in Louisville: residents have told Sens. McConnell and Paul that they are tired of the current system, too, and of the abuse. They want change for the better, and they expect their elected officials in Congress to listen to their voices.

The resolution, which passed in the Metro Council of Louisville by unanimous vote, comes on the heels of a similar vote in Nashville, Tennessee, in August.

In addition to demanding action from Sens. McConnell and Paul, the resolution, introduced by Councilmember Marcus Winkler with support rallied by former HSUS Kentucky state director Kathryn Callahan, also urges the USDA to reinstate a rule against soring that was finalized by the Obama administration in 2017, but unlawfully withdrawn when the Trump administration took office. The Humane Society of the United States and Humane Society Legislative Fund are currently suing the USDA over this unlawful repeal.

We urge the Kentucky Senators to listen to the people who helped put them in office. It’s time our nation righted the wrongs that walking horses have endured for decades, and petty politics should not stand in the way of ending this cruelty. You too can help. If you live in Kentucky, please contact Sens. McConnell and Paul, and if you live anywhere else in the United States, look up your senators and urge them to cosponsor and work to pass the PAST Act. Let’s make this the year soring ends, as Congress intended nearly a half century ago when it passed the Horse Protection Act.

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

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Breaking news: Key Senate committee signals support for animals, like wild horses and whales, with spending bills

Today, the U.S. Congress once again provides good news for animals. The Senate Appropriations Committee approved two Fiscal Year 2020 bills that cover funding for the Department of the Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Department of Commerce—including federal agencies whose activities and programs have enormous consequences for animals. The proposed measures include a commitment for non-lethal management of wild horses and burros featuring increased fertility control approaches, funding to protect critically endangered north Atlantic right whales, and increased funding to implement the Endangered Species Act.

HORSES-WILD-ISTOCK-836461312_438049
Photo courtesy iStock.com

Similar to the bills passed by the House of Representatives, the 2020 bills also repudiate years of cuts to the budgets of key agency programs responsible for implementing these and other animal protection commitments.

Among the highlights of the bills that passed the committee today:

New milestones for wild horses and burros: The bill that covers the Interior Department provides $35 million to move the Bureau of Land Management’s Wild Horse and Burro Program away from calls to use lethal management methods like slaughter. The increased funding for a non-lethal program included in the FY 2020 report is for proven, safe, and humane fertility control tools and the onboarding of improved science as it becomes available, which does not include sterilization. The strategy, developed over years of negotiations with key stakeholders and proposed by the Humane Society Legislative, the Humane Society of the United States, and several other organizations, directs the BLM to work with key organizations to implement the program, which will involve vigorous application of fertility control alongside strategic removals, the relocation of removed horses and burros to pasture facilities, and increased focus on adoptions. This is the first time that lawmakers have championed such a multifaceted, non-lethal wild horse and burro management concept and is an historic achievement. We will continue to work with appropriators to ensure that scientifically-proven, safe, and humane reversible fertility control tools—which do not include surgical sterilization—become the heart of the BLM’s wild horse and burro management. Like the House of Representatives, the Senate is reinstating a prohibition on killing healthy wild horses and burros, including sending them to slaughter by the BLM.

Conservation of marine mammals: The bill covering the Commerce Department funds vital research and monitoring for the endangered North Atlantic right whale, providing $3 million for research and conservation efforts for the species, $1 million of which is to be dedicated for a pilot program to develop, refine, and field test innovative fishing gear technologies designed to reduce North Atlantic right whale entanglements. The legislation maintains funding of the Marine Mammal Commission, rejecting the administration’s bid to close this key independent federal agency tasked with addressing human impacts on marine mammals and their ecosystems.

Funding for wildlife protection programs: For years, Congress has cut funding for programs vital to wildlife protection, to the point where there is insufficient capital to ensure their effective functioning. The bill covering the Interior Department increases monies for the FWS’s Ecological Services program, which is central to on-the-ground activities to protect and recover ESA-listed species. The bill proposes $5 million more than Ecological Services received for FY 2019, and $17 million above the administration’s FY 2020 budget request. It also boosts funding for the Multinational Species Conservation Fund, designed to protect iconic global species such as elephants and great apes, by over $1 million from its FY 2019 level and by almost $7 million from the administration’s FY 2020 proposal.

Animal testing alternatives: The bill also provides level funding for EPA’s Computational Toxicology Program, which develops replacements for traditional animal tests, as required in the 2016 reauthorization of the Toxic Substances Control Act. With the recent historic announcement by the EPA’s Administrator Wheeler calling for an end to animal testing, it is imperative that Congress increase funding for the agency’s Office of Research and Development including the Computational Toxicology Program.

These bills are a testament to the importance of animal protection issues within all agencies of our federal government. The fights are real and we must keep the government honest about its commitments to protecting and preserving species on land and in the sea. As these bills are taken up by the full Senate, we are committed to seeing that these vital funding provisions for animals are included.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Justify’s story highlights urgent need to root out doping and self-policing from horseracing industry

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

The saga of 2018 Triple Crown champion Justify, recently chronicled in a New York Times article, provides one of the most compelling arguments yet for reform in the horseracing industry and in particular for ending the massive leeway the industry now enjoys in policing itself in regard to the doping of animals.

According to the Times, when Justify charged across the finish line in June 2018 to win the Belmont Stakes, becoming only the second horse to win the Triple Crown since 1978, he had already tested positive for a banned drug, scopolamine. The drug can act as a bronchodilator, clearing the horse’s airway and augmenting his heart rate, thereby enhancing his performance.

HORSE-RACING-D2HE0Y_469355 (1)
Photo by Stan Rohrer/Alamy Stock Photo


What unfolded next is a study in how those in the highest power echelons of the horse racing industry bent and twisted the rules to ensure that the star equine athlete stayed in the running.

Instead of the failed drug test causing a speedy disqualification, the California Horse Racing Board took more than a month to confirm the test results. “Then, instead of filing a public complaint as it usually does, the board made a series of decisions behind closed doors as it moved to drop the case and lighten the penalty for any horse found to have the banned substance that Justify tested positive for in its system,” reporter Joe Drape writes.

The board also decided not to continue with its case against Justify’s trainer, Hall of Famer Bob Baffert. Baffert continues to deny intentionally doping Justify, even though a second test he ordered from another lab also came back positive.

There were high stakes involved. Justify went on to become only the 13th winner ever of the Triple Crown. After the Kentucky Derby, his owners had sold his breeding rights for $60 million (documents reviewed by the Times did not show any evidence of pressure or tampering by Justify’s owners). 

Justify’s story illustrates just why we need reform in the horseracing industry, where those who promote the sport are also policing it, and where both legal and illegal drugs continue to be used widely.

The industry is now beset by a drug crisis 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 regarding which drugs are permitted or penalties for doping.

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 make it possible to force worn-out horses to compete, which can result in career-ending injuries and even death.

That’s why the Humane Society of the United States, the Humane Society Legislative Fund and the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association (along with dozens of groups in the racing industry and animal protection arena) support passage of the Horseracing Integrity Act H.R.1754/S.1820 in Congress. The bill, sponsored in the House by Reps. Paul Tonko , D-N.Y., and Andy Barr, R-Ky., and in the Senate by Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Martha McSally, R-Ariz., would not only ban race day medication and substantially increase out-of-competition testing, it would also remove state racing commissions from oversight of all medication regulations and enforcement. The bill would also grant independent control over rule-making, testing and enforcement oversight regarding drugs and medication to a new authority created by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.  Finally, it would create a uniform national standard for drug testing overseen by USADA, an independent entity that oversees testing of U.S. athletes at the Olympics and many other sporting events.

We are also calling for an independent investigation into the circumstances surrounding Justify’s drug test and an overhaul of drug testing policy to protect racehorses from those who place winning over racehorse welfare.

Horseracing is at a true crossroads, and it’s time things changed for the better, especially for the equine athletes. Please contact your federal legislators today and urge them to cosponsor the Horseracing Integrity Act and do all they can to help secure its passage. Let’s make this the year this important bill races across the finish line.

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

 

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Equine advocates gather on Capitol Hill to promote equine welfare bills

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

Equine-lobby-day
Photo courtesy of Bryant Taylor

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 23, 2019

Washington Post reveals White House may have meddled to stop USDA inspectors from helping suffering animals

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

There are new and explosive revelations about the lengths the Trump administration may be going to in order to prevent U.S. Department of Agriculture inspectors from documenting and reporting violations of the Animal Welfare Act and the Horse Protection Act.

NCPUPPYMILL_0740_359091
Photo by Meredith Lee/The HSUS

Washington Post story details a disturbing case at an Iowa facility in 2017 where nearly 300 raccoons, bred and sold as pets and for research, lay suffering and without relief in their stacked cages in 100-degree temperatures. But when a USDA team of veterinarians and specialists confiscated some of the animals and made plans to come back for the others, an industry group appealed to a Trump White House adviser. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and senior USDA officials then intervened to block the inspectors and veterinarians from taking the remaining raccoons, and they were ordered to return the ones they had already seized.

“In the months that followed, the Iowa incident was described by USDA officials at internal meetings as an example of the new philosophy of animal welfare protection under the Trump administration and Perdue,” reporters Karin Brulliard and William Wan write. “Leaders of the agency’s Animal Care division told inspectors to treat those regulated by the agency—breeders, zoos, circuses, horse shows and research labs—more as partners than as potential offenders.”

William Stokes, a veterinarian who oversaw inspectors in 27 states for USDA, told the Post that the weakened enforcement had caused an “untold numbers of animals” to experience unnecessary suffering.

These are shocking revelations, but they are not surprising to us. The Post article further cements concerns that we’ve had—and voiced—on this blog before: that in the past two-and-a-half years, the USDA—the agency with a mandate to protect animals used by businesses, including pet breeders, zoos, research labs and other institutions—has been failing miserably to do its job because it is busy pandering to those who run these businesses. The result has been immense suffering for the animals, even as the USDA itself has been hemorrhaging experienced staff and taxpayer dollars.

The Post article also discusses a shift in the enforcement of the Horse Protection Act with regards to the soring of Tennessee walking horses and other related breeds—a shift that began in 2016, after the appointment by the Obama administration of Bernadette Juarez, the first non-veterinarian to lead the Animal Care division. Among other changes, a new rule required a second USDA veterinarian to independently perform a second inspection on a sored horse, and unless both came up with the same results, the horse could not be disqualified and the owner could not be cited. As a result, the number of horses that inspectors determined had been sored dropped from 30 percent in 2016 to only two percent in 2018.

The weakening of enforcement is not the only bad change made by the Trump administration: in early 2017, it abruptly removed from the USDA website all public inspection reports on regulated facilities. The same year, it introduced an incentive program that allows licensees to avoid penalties for violations by self-reporting them, even if the violations resulted in animal deaths. It has also removed a chapter in the inspectors’ guide that explained how to identify and confiscate suffering animals, and began training for inspectors that instructs them to “educate” licensees rather than documenting violations.

As a result, since the current administration took office, citations by USDA have plummeted 65%, according to the Post’s research, and enforcement cases declined 92% between 2016 and 2018.

Former Animal Care division head Ron DeHaven called the decrease in citations for the most serious violations concerning. “If there are things that are directly impacting the health and well-being of animals, I don’t care who the administration is,” he told the Post. “Those are the kinds of things that need to be documented.”

The Humane Society of the United States own research for our Horrible Hundred report shows a similar drop. They found that many puppy mills that have been cited by state officials for serious issues, such as emaciated dogs and dying puppies, received completely clean inspection reports from their USDA inspectors.

With our government turning its back on the animals, it has been left to animal protection groups like us—and the media—to shine a light on the cruelty when possible. We are intensifying our fight against puppy mills by working with states and localities to stop the sale of puppies in pet stores altogether, and we’ve been successful in more than 312 localities and two states. Earlier this year, 39 Senators and 188 Representatives wrote a letter urging the USDA to stop treating regulated industries as their clients, tighten up enforcement, require documentation of every noncompliance, and restore the public inspections records and enforcement documents to the USDA’s website.

We, along with the HSUS, have also filed a lawsuit against the USDA for withdrawing, in 2017, a rule finalized by the Obama administration that would have closed loopholes in Horse Protection Act regulations. And we’ll be watching to see how USDA inspectors are allowed to perform their duties at the Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration that starts this week in Shelbyville. This week, five of the lead House sponsors of the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, which the House approved in July, sent a letter to Secretary Perdue urging the Department to “do everything possible to vigorously enforce” the HPA, and for field employees at the Celebration to “perform their inspection duties with diligence.” A parallel letter was also sent to the secretary by the lead sponsors of the Senate PAST Act.

The administration should take heed that we will not sit by and allow it to continue choosing the interests of businesses over the animals they use. The media spotlight is already turned on them, Congress is watching, and rest assured we will not miss a single opportunity to protect the animals with all means at our disposal.

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

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Where do the Democratic presidential candidates stand on animal protection issues?

By Brad Pyle

With the Democratic election field for 2020 in play, we thought it timely to examine the animal protection records of candidates for president. This two-part series will highlight the pro-animal commitments of the candidates. Following the order of the Democratic Party’s second presidential debate, here’s what we know:   

ISTOCK-479747398_476683Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders has been a steady and consistent supporter of animal protection during his time in Congress.

In the current session, Sanders is cosponsoring legislation to create a felony penalty for malicious animal cruelty and crack down on horse soring abuses.

In previous sessions, Sanders cosponsored bills to curtail abusive puppy mills and animal fighting, to restrict the private trade in big cats and primates as exotic pets, and to ban barren battery cages for egg-laying hens. He supported strong enforcement of federal animal welfare laws, and opposed the weakening of the Endangered Species Act.

He helped to lead the effort in the 111th and 112th Congresses to end the use of chimpanzees in invasive research and retire them to sanctuaries.

Elizabeth Warren

Elizabeth Warren has continually supported animal protection legislation while in the U.S. Senate.

Currently, Warren is cosponsoring legislation to create a felony penalty for malicious animal cruelty and crack down on horse soring abuses.

In previous sessions, Warren has introduced legislation to strengthen oversight of antibiotic use in animals. She also co-filed an amendment to the Farm Bill to correct abuses by commodity checkoff programs such as those for beef, pork, and eggs.

Pete Buttigieg

Pete Buttigieg’s accelerated rise to the forefront of American politics has presented him with little opportunity to affect animal protection policy.

During his 2018 State of the City address, Buttigieg highlighted South Bend’s Animal Care & Control successes in doubling the number of pet adoptions and reducing the euthanasia rate for cats and dogs.

Pete has two rescue dogs, Truman and Buddy, who appear frequently on social media.

Beto O’Rourke

Beto O’Rourke supported critical animal protection legislation while in Congress, and was a member of the Congressional Animal Protection Caucus.

O’Rourke supported the full range of animal protection legislation through his votes and cosponsorships. This includes voting to protect wildlife in Alaska, crack down on animal fighting, and against stripping ESA protections from gray wolves in the Lower 48 states.

Amy Klobuchar

In the current session, Senator Amy Klobuchar is cosponsoring legislation to crack down on horse soring abuses.

In the past, she cosponsored legislation which would require furs to be labeled, enabling consumers to make informed decisions. She also voted against legislation which allowed egregiously cruel and unsporting hunting methods on more than 76 million acres of National Wildlife Refuges in Alaska.  

Tim Ryan

Congressman Tim Ryan has received scores ranging from 25 to 100 on the Humane Scorecard.

In the current session, Ryan is cosponsoring legislation to crack down on malicious animal cruelty, eliminate the shark fin trade, and prevent the export of American horses for slaughter overseas. This year he voted for the PAST Act, which would end horse soring abuses.

Previously, he voted to establish a recovery program for the Southern sea otter and to expand funding for marine turtle conservation.

John Delaney

Former Congressman John Delaney consistently received top marks on the Humane Scorecard, receiving an impressive score of “100” over each of his last 5 years in office.

While in the U.S. House, Delaney voted to crack down on animal fighting in the U.S. territories, and against stripping ESA protections from gray wolves in the Lower 48 states. During his last term in office, he cosponsored legislation to end horse soring abuses, crack down on malicious animal cruelty, and end the domestic shark fin trade.

Delaney was a member of the Congressional Animal Protection Caucus.

Marianne Williamson

Marianne Williamson is a member of the Humane Society of the United States’ Faith Advisory Council. In this capacity, she plays a leading role in reminding people to be responsible stewards and caretakers of God’s creation. She also serves as an ambassador for the HSUS in her community.

Williamson’s presidential platform contains promising animal protection language, stating, “As custodians of this planet, we are intended to care for the animals that share the land with us.”

Steve Bullock

Few animal protection bills make it to the desk of Steve Bullock, Montana’s governor since 2013.  Montana currently ranks 42nd in the Humane Society of the United States’ Humane State ranking.

 In 2015, Bullock vetoed a bill which would have restricted Montana’s ability to relocate bison within the state.

During a campaign stop in Iowa, Bullock said large animal confinements known as CAFOs are a state issue, not a federal one, not a promising animal welfare position for someone seeking the presidency.

Closing Remarks

Please remember to update your voter registration, and take other steps to ensure that  your voice is heard in our democracy. Tomorrow’s blog will cover the candidates featured in night two of the second presidential debate.

Brad Pyle is political director of the Humane Society Legislative Fund.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

HSLF, HSUS file lawsuit to compel USDA to reinstate soring rule

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

Just weeks after the historic passage of the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, H.R. 693, in the U.S. House of Representatives, we’re opening up another front in our fight against horse “soring.” Today the Humane Society Legislative Fund and the Humane Society of the United States filed a lawsuit in federal court against the U.S. Department of Agriculture, seeking to compel the agency to reinstate a final rule that was duly issued, prescribed and promulgated in 2017, but withdrawn with the advent of a new administration. The final rule amended regulations under the Horse Protection Act (HPA) that have allowed soring to fester for the entire 49 years since the Act’s passage.

Hslf-soring-blog-300x200
Photo by the HSUS

The lawsuit argues that by withdrawing the final rule, the USDA not only violated the legal requirements of rulemaking, but also violated its mandate under the HPA. The lawsuit was filed by pro bono counsel at the law firm Latham & Watkins, LLP and the HSUS’s Animal Protection Litigation team. Several individual plaintiffs also joined the HSUS and HSLF in the lawsuit.

It’s been a federal crime since 1970 to show horses who have been sored—subjected to the intentional infliction of pain on their legs and hooves to force them to step higher to gain a competitive edge in the show ring. But trainers in the Tennessee walking, spotted saddle and racking horse breeds have taken advantage of inadequate regulations that have allowed soring to continue unabated. The existing regulations allow chains to be hung around horses’ legs and tall, heavy platform shoes or “stacks” to be nailed to horses’ hooves. These devices—which exacerbate the pain of caustic chemicals burned into the horses’ skin and conceal hard or sharp objects jammed into their tender soles—are integral to the soring process.

The current regulations also authorize an industry self-policing scheme which has facilitated the perpetuation of soring. In 2010, USDA’s Inspector General released a comprehensive audit of the agency’s Horse Protection Program, concluding that the industry self-policing system—the one authorized by the regulations that would have been replaced by the final rule—was fraught with conflicts of interest, inadequate to prevent soring, and should be abolished. USDA agreed with the Inspector General’s recommendations and said then that it would implement new regulations to remedy the problem. The agency also stated in separate Federal Register notices (in 1979 and 2011) that if soring persisted, it would consider banning the stacks and chains used to facilitate the practice.

With the final rule, the agency at long last took the actions necessary to move toward fulfilling its obligations under the HPA. On Jan. 13, 2017, USDA put out a press release announcing the final rule and sent the rule to the Office of the Federal Register where it was put on public inspection and scheduled for publication. However, the rule was withdrawn a few days later by the new administration without following any of the procedures mandated by law to repeal a duly issued, prescribed and promulgated final rule; agency officials have since placed the final rule on “inactive” status and have resisted efforts to move forward on it.

With today’s legal action we are making clear that we intend to hold the federal government accountable for complying with its statutory obligations under the Horse Protection Act to end the cruelty of soring. Our action also puts horse sorers on notice that we will not stop in our efforts to halt the cruelty they inflict on horses.

Our commitment to end soring is a lasting one. We’ve investigated the practice for decades, bringing forth evidence that has deepened public awareness and outrage over soring and resulted in cruelty convictions for trainers. Most recently, we helped persuade the Nashville Metro Council to unanimously approve a resolution urging Tennessee’s U.S. Senators to cosponsor the PAST Act and work to get it enacted, a strong sign that there’s little tolerance left for soring in Tennessee.

This has been a hard fight over the years because, believe it or not, soring has powerful defenders. But we’ve never given up, and we’ve never been closer to securing its abolition than we are now. The lawsuit and our ongoing advocacy to pass the PAST Act seek to deliver justice to the horses who have so long suffered as a result of soring. We’ll keep working to bring down the curtain on this cruel and sinister practice and finish the job our predecessors in humane work started a half century ago.

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

Wednesday, August 07, 2019

Nashville calls for an end to cruel horse soring

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

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

Hslf-soring-blog-300x200
Photo by the HSUS

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, July 25, 2019

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

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

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

Hslf-soring-blog-300x200
Photo by the HSUS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Our animal protection agenda wins big in House Appropriations funding package

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

There’s a reason why the Humane Society Legislative Fund and the Humane Society of the United States invest substantial time and effort in seeking to shape funding decisions within the U.S. Congress; it pays off big for animal protection. Today the U.S. House of Representatives voted 227-194 to pass a large package of fiscal year 2020 appropriations bills to fund several federal departments, including Agriculture, Interior and Commerce. H.R. 3055 features a number of great provisions for animals. Some of the most important include:

Elephant-blog-300x250
photo by iStock.com

Halting trophy imports—Prevents the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) from issuing permits to import elephant or lion trophies from Zimbabwe, Zambia or Tanzania (an amendment offered by Reps. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., Jared Huffman, D-Calif., Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., and Ted Lieu, D-Calif., approved by 239-192 vote).

Saving North Atlantic right whales—Provides $2.5 million for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration research and monitoring of these critically endangered whales (a floor amendment by Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., that increased funding by $1.5 million was approved by voice vote; a harmful amendment by Reps. Jared Golden, D-Maine, and Chellie Pingree, D-Maine was defeated by 84-345 vote).

Enhancing wildlife trade detection—Encourages USFWS to allocate an additional $200,000 for its Wildlife Detector Dog Program, which uses dogs to sniff out illegal wildlife products at key U.S. ports of entry, curbing wildlife trafficking (an amendment by Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., was approved by voice vote). 

Restoring purged USDA data—Directs the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to resume online posting of all inspection reports and enforcement records under the Animal Welfare Act and Horse Protection Act; documents must be promptly posted in their entirety without redactions that obscure the identities of puppy mills, roadside zoos and other businesses cited for violations (Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Sanford Bishop, D-Ga., incorporated this and several other pro-animal items on this list in his base bill).

Providing shelter for people and pets fleeing domestic violence—Allocates $2 million for a new grant program authorized by the 2018 Farm Bill, based on the Pet and Women Safety (PAWS) Act, to help provide emergency and transitional shelter options for domestic violence survivors with companion animals; directs USDA and the Departments of Health and Human Services and Housing and Urban Development to work together quickly to establish and carry out this grant program (Rep. Katherine Clark, D-Mass., led efforts to secure these provisions).

Stopping horse slaughter—Prohibits USDA spending on horse slaughter inspections, effectively preventing the reopening of horse slaughterhouses in the U.S. for FY20.

Punishing horse soring—Provides $294,000 increase (raising the program’s funding to $1 million) for stronger USDA enforcement of the Horse Protection Act (HPA) to prevent the cruel practice of soring Tennessee walking horses and related show breeds.

Curbing cruelty in swine slaughter—Suspends USDA’s swine slaughter rule that allows slaughterhouses to send pigs down the line as rapidly as possible, with serious negative implications for animal welfare, food safety and worker safety (an amendment by Reps. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., and David Price, D-N.C., was approved in committee).

Shutting down Class B dealers—Renews the prohibition on USDA’s use of funds to license Class B dealers, notorious for trafficking in dogs and cats obtained through fraudulent means, including pet theft, for research and testing (Rep. Roybal-Allard, D-Calif., championed this measure).

Requiring AWA inspections documentation—Calls on USDA to require that inspectors document every observed violation of the Animal Welfare Act (AWA), to reverse concealment tactics that the agency has promoted during the past few years.

Engaging the USDA Inspector General—Presses this important office to step up efforts against animal fighting and to audit USDA’s enforcement of the AWA, HPA and Humane Methods of Slaughter Act (HMSA).

Supporting veterinary care and services—Boosts funding by $1 million (to $9 million total) for student loan repayment program for veterinarians who commit to practice in underserved areas. 

A number of key provisions on which we reported earlier for wild horses and burros, wolves, marine mammals, other wildlife and alternatives to animal testing are also contained in today’s House-approved package. So are measures calling for greater oversight of animal welfare and transparency at  Agricultural Research Service labs, strengthened HMSA enforcement for live animal handling at slaughterhouses and funds for USDA to help state and local governments address the needs of people with pets in their disaster planning.

By any standard, this has been a banner year so far in our work shepherding strong animal welfare initiatives through the federal budgeting process. We are so grateful to the legislators who led the charge on these provisions and to their colleagues who voted for the package. And we’re grateful to the many engaged advocates who have stood strong behind us in our efforts. Now we’ll urge the Senate to follow suit and get these provisions enacted! 

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.

Get Political
for Animals




Powered by TypePad