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Equines

Monday, April 22, 2019

Proposal offers brighter future for wild horses and burros

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

The Bureau of Land Management’s Wild Horse and Burro Program is broken. Since inception of the program, the BLM has removed approximately 270,000 wild horses and burros from our public lands, without any significant use of fertility control tools, and without a plan to ensure the long-term viability and humane treatment of wild horses and burros.

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iStock Photo

For many years, BLM and equine advocates have been locked in a continuing cycle of ever-increasing removals, more and more horses warehoused in holding facilities (and the associated rising costs), and a political and policy stalemate between stakeholders—with no solutions in sight. Meanwhile wild horse and burro populations have grown—as have political tensions surrounding the program —and to date because no viable solutions have been presented to Congress, we are looking at a future in which the BLM will likely be directed by Congress to sell wild horse and burros without limitation, or destroy “excess” wild horses and burros.

Three years ago the HSUS, HSLF and its allies decided enough was enough, and started to work cooperatively with other stakeholders on a simple goal—find a responsible way forward. Today, we are announcing our support for a landmark proposal for the care of America’s wild horses and burros.

Working in concert with other animal welfare, wild horse advocacy, conservation and rangeland management stakeholders, we have developed a proposal for the non-lethal and humane care of wild horses and burros, with four key elements:

  1. Comprehensive large-scale application of proven, safe and humane fertility control strategies to help stabilize wild horse and burro populations on the range and to slow population growth.
  2. Targeted gathers of horses and burros in densely populated areas that cannot sustain large numbers of animals, to protect horses and burros from forage and water shortages, lower populations, and facilitate non-lethal fertility control and population control efforts.
  3. Relocate horses and burros in short-term holding facilities, and those taken off the range, to large cost-effective, humane pasture facilities that provide a free-roaming environment for wild horses and burros.
  4. Promoting the adoption of wild horses and burros into good homes to improve the lives of currently warehoused horses and burros, reduce the total cost of the program, and redirect funds to long-term strategies for the care and sustainability of horse and burro populations.

This proposal represents an entirely new, humane and comprehensive approach to wild horse and burro management—combining a number of techniques currently in use with new and innovative approaches into a larger framework for humane long-term care and rehoming of horses and burros.

One thing the proposal doesn’t include? The destruction or unlimited sale of healthy wild horses and burros. Although this proposal requires some interventions for horses that the humane community has fought in the past, the comprehensive plan, as a whole, is the best path forward to protect America’s horses from an ineffective status quo.

Fighting the big fights to protect all animals requires more than just objecting and opposing inhumane treatment of animals. It requires creative action to change the status quo. And this includes working with people from many different backgrounds and interests to find real-world solutions for animals. We’ve taken that approach here, as we have done in the past for many other animals on different occasions.

It wasn’t easy to get here, but it is the very best pathway forward. We all want to see healthy herds of wild horses and burros on the range in perpetuity, and we firmly believe something must be done now to prevent the suffering of horses and burros in the future. Working together we have broken the stalemate and presented to Congress a cooperative solution that focuses on the non-lethal and humane care of wild horses and burros, and also ensures the long-term protection of wild horses and burros on our western rangelands. Now we must call on Congress to fund this pathway forward to sustain these American icons for decades to come.

Read our FAQ about this proposal here.

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.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Breaking news: U.S. reinstates safeguards to prevent wild horse and burro slaughter

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

In a major victory for our campaign to protect wild horses and burros, the United States this week reinstated important safeguards that will prevent unscrupulous kill buyers from purchasing large numbers of these iconic American animals and funneling them to slaughter abroad.

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Photo courtesy iStock.com


The Bureau of Land Management, the agency tasked with managing the nation’s wild horse and burro population, said it is returning to a 2014 policy that allows individuals and organizations to buy only four wild horses over a six-month period. That policy was put in place after investigations revealed a notorious kill buyer had bought nearly 1,800 wild horses from BLM and sent them across the border to Mexico to be slaughtered.

Last year, the Trump administration scrapped the 2014 policy and put in place a new sales policy that allowed 25 horses to be purchased at a time, with no time limit between the purchases. This created an extremely dangerous situation for the animals, where any buyer, including kill buyers, could purchase 25 horses one day, then go back the next day and buy 25 more horses, and so on. It was precisely this sort of exploitation that the 2014 policy had sought to end.

We are grateful that BLM recognized the pitfalls of this new policy and has acted to change course. Humanely managing wild horse and burro populations and ending horse slaughter are key issues for us here at the HSUS and the Humane Society Legislative Fund, and we are working to resolve them on many fronts. The HSUS has been pushing for BLM to greatly expand their use of population growth suppression tools, which have been used to help manage wild horse and burro herds across the country, including in Arizona, Colorado, Maryland, Montana, New Mexico, South Carolina and Utah.

Our HSLF staff has been working for many years with allies on the Hill to retain language in the appropriations bill that prevents the destruction of healthy, unadopted wild horses and burros or their sale to slaughter, and language that keeps horse slaughter plants from reopening in the United States.

This year, we worked with members of Congress on the reintroduction of the Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act, H.R 961. This important bill, introduced by Reps. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., and Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., will end the transport of wild and domestic American horses, burros and other equines abroad to be slaughtered for human consumption, and it would ensure that horse slaughter plants on U.S. soil remain shuttered.

The slaughter of America’s horses is not an issue that should even be up for debate. Please contact your U.S. representative today and ask them to support the SAFE Act. Our horses and burros are a national treasure, and they deserve better than to endure the horrors of transport across the border and a cruel death so they can become food on someone’s plate overseas.

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.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

A budget deal has been reached, and it's good news for animals

After months of negotiations, and the longest shutdown in United States history, a deal has emerged for funding to cover all the remaining federal agencies whose Fiscal Year 2019 budgets have been in limbo. While the package has been agreed to by key House and Senate negotiators, it still has to clear some hurdles. We are hopeful that this turning point shows that Congress stands united, and that President Trump will sign the bill into law. Although earlier appropriations bills in the House and Senate contained worrisome provisions and excluded important protections for animals, we are happy to report that the final version has resolved many of those problems.

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Jennifer Kunz/Duchess Sanctuary

The Humane Society Legislative Fund worked with animal protection champions in both chambers and with other stakeholders to secure these key outcomes:

Maintaining the ban on horse slaughter: The bill prohibits government spending on horse slaughter inspections, which effectively bans horse slaughter in the United States for human consumption. This language has been in place in almost every year’s budget since 2005, and was initially secured in the FY19 Senate version of the bill.

Protecting wild horses and burros: The bill prevents the Bureau of Land Management and its contractors from sending wild horses and burros to slaughter, and from killing excess healthy horses and burros. In addition, the bill leaves out harmful language contained in the House version of the bill to launch a program of mass surgical sterilization—a procedure which research has yet to prove can be conducted humanely. The conferees have requested that the BLM provide them with an updated humane management plan within 180 days, and that the agency include in its fiscal year 2020 budget request an outline of its proposed strategy and the funding necessary for implementation.

Preserving ESA protections for gray wolves: The bill omits an assault on gray wolves contained in the original House version of the bill. If enacted, it would have directed the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to remove Endangered Species Act protections from wolves in Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin, remove Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections from wolves in the entire contiguous 48 states, and barred judicial review of those actions and of the 2012 removal from the ESA of gray wolves in Wyoming.

Allowing grizzly bear recovery: The bill excludes a provision contained in the House version which strove to block funding for the reintroduction of grizzly bears to the North Cascades Ecosystem in Washington State. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Park Service released an environmental impact statement in 2015 to launch the reintroduction process, which former U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke endorsed in March 2018. Instead, the conferees have directed FWS and NPS to re-open the public comment period regarding the draft environmental impact statement with proposed alternatives for the restoration of grizzly bears to the North Cascades Ecosystem—and to work with ranchers, conservation groups, local governments, and other local partners to reduce conflicts between grizzly bears and livestock, drawing upon lessons learned with the Wolf Livestock Loss Demonstration Program to improve conservation outcomes while limiting effects to agricultural producers.

Oversight of farm animals used in research: In 2015, the New York Times brought to light terrible abuses of farm animals at a USDA Agricultural Research Service facility in Nebraska, the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center. Congress responded forcefully with directives to USDA to begin inspecting these facilities for animal welfare compliance and providing quarterly reports to the Appropriations Committees.This bill includes harsh criticism of USDA’s progress reports, noting that “ARS did not report a single specific negative finding by APHIS inspectors, despite the fact that numerous violations have been found involving the death of numerous animals and serious health issues of many more. The failure to report these problems to the Committees is unacceptable. The conferees direct ARS to submit a single report covering all violations found by APHIS to date and the specific actions taken to prevent them from recurring within 60 days of enactment.”

Animal testing alternatives: The omnibus sustains level funding of $21.41 million (rejecting a $4.2 million cut proposed by the President) for the Environmental Protection Agency’s Computational Toxicology program to develop replacements for traditional animal tests, as required in the 2016 reauthorization of the Toxic Substances Control Act.

Class B random source dealers: The bill contains the same language as in the past few years prohibiting the USDA from licensing Class B random source dealers, who are notorious for keeping dogs and cats in awful conditions and obtaining them through fraudulent means such as pet theft to sell them to research facilities. Our colleagues at the Animal Welfare Institute have led this fight.

USDA data purge: Following bipartisan expressions of outrage, the House Committee Report (in a provision deemed adopted in the final package) directed the U.S. Department of Agriculture to restore inspection reports and enforcement records for horse shows, puppy mills, roadside zoos, laboratories, and other facilities which were purged from the agency’s website in February 2017.

Providing needed funding: The bill provides a $500,000 increase for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to enforce the Animal Welfare Act and a $500,000 boost in a veterinary services grant program. It sustains funding for other key accounts including enforcement of the Horse Protection Act, Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, and federal animal fighting law, as well as for programs to address the needs of animals in disasters, encourage veterinarians to locate in underserved areas, support the Marine Mammal Commission’s crucial work, and crack down on international wildlife trafficking.

The omnibus package is not perfect. For example, it renews a harmful provision that blocks the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating toxic lead content in ammunition and fishing tackle, which poisons and kills wildlife. But overall, the Humane Society Legislative Fund is very happy that Congress has taken a stand on so many important animal protection issues. We look forward to working with the 116th Congress to ensure these protections are maintained and to build on them with additional vital measures.

Tuesday, February 05, 2019

The state of the animal union under the Trump administration

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

As President Donald Trump prepares to deliver his State of the Union address tonight, it’s a good time to take stock of how his administration has dealt with animal protection issues of interest to us at the Humane Society Legislative Fund and the Humane Society of the United States.

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Photo by RamiroMarquezPhotos/iStock.com

President Trump has expressed his personal distaste for trophy hunting—to his credit—but in the past two years, we have also seen aggressive moves by the Department of the Interior and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to undo years of work done by previous administrations to save wildlife at risk of extinction globally and in Alaska. Moreover, the government has made blatant handouts to trophy hunters. The animal protection field has also had to grapple with a U.S. Department of Agriculture blackout of important information that groups like ours and the American public rely upon to ensure animals are not suffering.

On balance, it would be fair to say that the impact of federal agencies over the past two years on animal protection has been more negative than positive. Some of the areas where we saw the Trump administration fail include:

  • The blackout of thousands of Animal Welfare Act and Horse Protection Act inspection and enforcement records from the U.S. Department of Agriculture website, making it harder for Americans to learn which puppy mills, roadside zoos, and research facilities, among other enterprises, are failing to comply with animal protection laws. The USDA has also cut back drastically on the number of warnings, official complaints, and license revocations it applies to the worst puppy mills and other Animal Welfare Act violators.
  • Former Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke illegally established the “International Wildlife Conservation Council,” an advisory panel stacked with people who have an interest in killing or importing rare and endangered animals from overseas. The administration also lifted the import ban on Zimbabwe elephant and lion trophies.
  • Last year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service proposed weakening the Endangered Species Act, creating additional roadblocks to securing comprehensive protections for threatened species, and to make the process of removing species from the ESA easier.
  • The Department of the Interior proposed rolling back an Obama-era regulation that banned some of the worst and most appalling hunting practices on 20 million acres of federal public lands in Alaska, including using artificial light to kill hibernating bears and their cubs, shooting wolf and coyote pups and mothers in their dens, using bait to attract brown and black bears, shooting vulnerable swimming caribou, and using dogs to hunt black bears. This, just after Congress revoked similar protections on 76 million acres of National Wildlife Refuge lands in Alaska in 2017.
  • The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service removed Yellowstone-area grizzly bears from the Endangered Species Act, and the Department of Justice committed funds for legal fights in the federal courts to make this administration action permanent.

We did see the Trump administration take some positive steps to help animals, including:

  • The National Park Service began work to augment the Isle Royale, Michigan, wolf population by introducing 20 to 30 wolves over a three-year period. New wolves will restore ecological balance to Isle Royale’s ecosystem.
  • The Food and Drug Administration pledged to conduct an independent, third-party investigation of the agency’s animal research programs, establishing a new Animal Welfare Council, and reaffirming its commitment to replacing, reducing, and refining animal studies by creating a road map with this focus.
  • The National Marine Fisheries Service designated critical habitat for the Main Hawaiian Islands insular false killer whale distinct population segment, although the area is smaller than many advocates had sought.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency released its strategic plan to promote the development and implementation of non-animal test methods.

We are also grateful that the USDA decided to abandon a proposal to outsource some inspections of puppy mills, roadside zoos and research laboratories to third-party inspectors. If implemented, the proposal would have essentially allowed these industries to police themselves and severely undermined protections for millions of animals.

As we look forward to 2019, we encourage the Trump administration to take necessary steps to prioritize transparency and to advance key animal welfare reforms, such as:

  • A proposed USDA rule to tighten licensing requirements for dog dealers and exhibitors, as well as strengthen requirements for dog dealers to provide basic care requirements.
  • A significant increase in the use of population growth suppression tools to manage wild horse and burro populations on our public rangelands. The Department of the Interior must also abandon past proposals to send wild horses and burros to slaughter.
  • Mitigating the harm being caused to the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale, including taking measures to reduce deadly entanglements in lobster gear and other trap/pot fisheries gear, and to reduce the risk of vessel strikes by imposing mandatory ship speed limits in additional areas of seasonal high use along the east coast.
  • Prioritizing the relocation of chimpanzees currently owned and supported by the federal government to the national sanctuary, Chimp Haven. The National Institutes of Health should also prioritize approaches to replacing animals in harmful research that not only represent the best available science, but could also prevent the suffering of millions of animals in laboratories each year.

Congress recently demonstrated that animal protection is a bipartisan value, with members from both sides of the aisle coming together to introduce bills to attack horse soring, horse slaughter, shark finning, and malicious animal cruelty. We hope that in the coming year, we will see more of an effort by the administration to work for, and not against, animals. Animal protection is an American value and most of us—Republicans and Democrats—do not want to see innocent creatures hurt or killed needlessly.

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

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Bipartisan bill introduced in Congress to end slaughter of American equines

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

The last horse slaughter plants in the United States closed years ago, and Congress has consistently voted to prohibit funding for horse slaughter inspections within U.S borders. Unfortunately, this does not prevent the inhumane transport of American equines to other countries. Each year, tens of thousands of our horses and burros are transported under terrible conditions to Canada and Mexico, where they meet a cruel end because there is no federal law stopping such transport across our borders.

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Jennifer Kunz/Duchess Sanctuary

The Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act introduced today by Reps. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., and Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., would change all that. Their measure proposes to end the transport of American horses, burros, and other equines abroad to be slaughtered for human consumption, and it would also ensure that horse slaughter plants on U.S. soil remain shuttered.

Horse slaughter is fundamentally cruel, from the way the animals are transported to the methods used to kill them. The horses and burros are shipped in overcrowded trucks for many hours, even days, without food, water, or rest. The animals are extremely stressed and they are frequently injured, or even killed, in transit.

Once at the slaughterhouse, they are shot with a captive bolt gun or rifle in an attempt to stun them before slaughter. Because of their skittishness and “fight or flight” response, it often takes repeated blows to render the horses unconscious and some are still awake during slaughter.

The suffering of the animals, while enough of a reason to stop this industry, is not the only problem. Horse meat is not safe for human consumption because American horses are not raised for food and are routinely given hundreds of drugs throughout their lives that can be toxic to humans. Some of these drugs are prohibited by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for use in animals intended for human consumption.

We thank Reps. Schakowsky and Buchanan for championing the SAFE Act, and urge other members of Congress to act promptly to ensure the bill is swiftly passed. We already know that this legislation enjoys wide support in the U.S. House of Representatives: the SAFE Act, H.R. 113, introduced in the last Congress with the same language as the bill introduced today, received broad bipartisan cosponsorship by 219 Representatives—a majority of the chamber.

Please contact your Representatives and tell them to cosponsor the SAFE Act. American equines are iconic animals and beloved companions, and protecting them from the horrors of transport, starvation, and slaughter is a responsibility we all share.

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

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Did your Members of Congress make the grade? The 2018 congressional year in review for animals

The final 2018 Humane Scorecard is now online, and we invite you to check it out and see how your federal legislators stood on a range of key issues last year. Please also share this scorecard with family, friends, and fellow advocates and help spread the word!

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iStock Photo

To recap, the 115th Congress second session had its share of frustrating setbacks, but the FY18 omnibus appropriations deal signed into law in March and the farm bill enacted in December contained some spectacular wins for animal protection. Here’s a snapshot of major actions in 2018:

Farm bill
Some of our biggest victories in this massive, multi-year package were defensive plays:

  • Most importantly, we blocked a terrible amendment by Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, that threatened to gut countless state and local laws on animal protection, food safety, and other agriculture-related concerns.
  • We also successfully countered amendments to eliminate the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) requirement for annual U.S. Department of Agriculture inspections at animal research laboratories and amendments to weaken Endangered Species Act (ESA) protections.

We secured three key pro-animal measures in the final package:

  • The Pet and Women Safety (PAWS) Act extends federal domestic violence protections to include pets and authorizes grant money to help domestic violence shelters and other entities arrange shelter for survivors with pets.
  • The Parity in Animal Cruelty Enforcement (PACE) Act clarifies that federal prohibitions on animal fighting apply in all U.S. jurisdictions, including territories where cockfighting is still openly practiced.
  • The Dog and Cat Meat Trade Prohibition Act prohibits the domestic slaughter, trade, and import/export of dogs and cats for human consumption, preventing an appalling trade from taking hold in the U.S. and strengthening our standing to end it worldwide.

Appropriations
The FY18 omnibus spending bill enacted in March contained many pro-animal items:

  • Equines: Renewed “defund” provision that effectively prevents horse slaughter plants from reopening on U.S. soil. Restated prohibition on sending wild horses or burros to slaughter for human consumption.
  • Wildlife: Struck riders that would have eliminated ESA protections (and barred judicial review) for gray wolves in Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. Eliminated rider allowing extreme methods of hunting on National Park Service lands in Alaska.
  • Animal welfare enforcement: Following requests by 184 representatives and 38 senators, provided a $2 million increase for AWA enforcement, added $1.5 million to a student loan repayment program that helps veterinarians work in underserved areas, and sustained funding in other animal welfare accounts. Also criticized the USDA for thwarting access to AWA and Horse Protection Act inspection reports and directed the agency to comply with earlier requirements “that the online searchable database should allow analysis and comparison of data and include all inspection reports, annual reports, and other documents related to enforcement of animal welfare laws.”
  • Research and testing: Maintained funding for the Environmental Protection Agency to develop replacements for animal tests and increased funding by $36 million for a National Institutes of Health program that helps transition science to non-animal test methods. Encouraged NIH to expedite retirement of chimpanzees in research facilities and to expand the national chimpanzee sanctuary system. Maintained prohibition on USDA licensing of “random source” dealers, who are notorious for acquiring dogs and cats through fraudulent means (including pet theft), keeping them in inhumane conditions and selling them for research.
  • Wounded warriors: Doubled funding (a $5 million increase) for Department of Defense grants to nonprofits providing therapeutic service dogs to veterans and active duty personnel suffering from physical injuries and emotional trauma, and boosted by $1 million a Veterans Affairs program providing equine therapy for veterans with mental health issues.

Some pro-animal FY19 budget provisions were enacted:

  • Provided a $105.4 million increase for the NIH program developing non-animal alternatives to animal tests.
  • Maintained $10 million for the Defense Department program that awards grants for therapy dogs, and increased by $500,000 the Veterans Affairs equine therapy program.

Other priorities in the FY19 budget await final resolution:

  • The horse slaughter defund provision is in the Senate bill but not the House bill.
  • Both the House and Senate bills include the prohibition on the slaughter of wild horses and burros for human consumption, but the House version also directs immediate initiation of a surgical sterilization program despite a lack of evidence that the method can be performed humanely or effectively.
  • The House bill contains terrible riders to undo ESA protections for gray wolves and block the reintroduction of grizzly bears in Washington State.

Additional victories

  • While the USDA budget isn’t finalized, the FY19 funding request letters (signed by a record 190 representatives and 38 senators) helped drive needed action: In May, the agency abandoned its proposal to outsource animal welfare oversight and give regulated industries (puppy mills, roadside zoos, research laboratories, etc.) the power to decide which facilities warrant federal inspections.
  • In September, the House passed a global resolution, H. Res. 401, urging all nations to prohibit and enforce laws to end the cruel dog and cat meat trade. (House resolutions don’t require Senate approval or presidential signature, so this measure is completed.)
  • The Welfare of Our Furry Friends (WOOFF) Act was signed into law in October as part of the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization. Introduced after a French bulldog died when an attendant insisted on stowing him in an overhead bin during a long flight, the WOOFF Act prohibits storage of live animals in airplane overhead compartments and authorizes civil penalties.
  • Several measures saw action in one chamber during the 115th Congress, setting the stage for future success. They included the Shark Fin Trade Elimination Act to prohibit sales of shark fins and the Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture (PACT) Act to prohibit acts of extreme cruelty in interstate or foreign commerce. The Horseracing Integrity Act (H.R. 2651), which aims to end widespread doping of race horses, had a House hearing in June (with testimony by the Humane Society of the United States), and in September the House approved the Rescuing Animals With Rewards (RAWR) Act (H.R. 6197) to crack down on international wildlife trafficking.

Setbacks
We did encounter some serious setbacks. Legislation to bring urgently needed changes to agriculture checkoff programs—so their funds are no longer misused to lobby against animal welfare reforms—failed in the Senate. A farm bill amendment to end the cruelty of horse “soring” was blocked from House floor consideration. Numerous animal protection bills, detailed in the 2018 Humane Scorecard, garnered hundreds of bipartisan co-sponsors but stalled because House and Senate leadership refused to call them up for a vote.

Looking ahead
The new Congress presents exciting opportunities to move reintroduced bills that are ripe for swift action. We hope to see significantly fewer anti-animal measures brought to the House floor, although we’ll likely need to respond to additional regulatory rollbacks against wildlife and other animals and to press for stronger agency enforcement and accountability. We’re eager to work on new priorities as well, such as disaster planning for animals at regulated facilities, as we face increasingly frequent and extreme weather events.

For all this and more, we’ll be counting on your continued help. You have been the key to our successes in 2018, and if you keep speaking out for the animals, we can accomplish even greater progress in the 116th Congress!

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Bipartisan bill introduced in Congress to end cruel horse soring

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

A strong team of bipartisan lawmakers has reintroduced a bill to end the cruel practice of “soring” Tennessee walking horses and related breeds, a core priority for us here at the Humane Society Legislative Fund and the Humane Society of the United States.

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Photo by the HSUS

The bill, introduced by 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., is identical to the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act that attracted overwhelming bipartisan cosponsorship from 290 representatives and 46 senators in the last Congress. The only difference is the title—it’s now named the “U.S. Senator Joseph D. Tydings Memorial Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act” to honor the memory of the former senator from Maryland who introduced the original Horse Protection Act enacted in 1970 and championed efforts to crack down on this cruelty. Sen. Tydings worked tirelessly with us on the PAST Act until his death in October 2018, and securing its passage in 2019 will be a fitting tribute to this hero for the horses.

Soring is the practice of intentionally inflicting pain on the hooves and legs of performance walking horses—using caustic chemicals, chains, weighted shoes, hard objects, cutting, and other gruesome techniques—to force them to perform a pain-based artificially high-stepping gait known as the “Big Lick” and gain unfair competitive advantage at horse shows.

Congress hoped to end soring when it passed the Horse Protection Act nearly 50 years ago, but a 2010 audit by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Inspector General and undercover investigations by the HSUS in 2012 and 2015 at top Big Lick stables found that rampant soring persists within a subset of the walking horse industry. These scofflaws, who insist on having their horses perform this grotesque exaggerated gait instead of valuing the beauty of the animals’ natural gait, don’t speak for the whole industry. In fact, it’s estimated that only about 10 percent of all Tennessee Walking Horses are shown in the Big Lick classes. And thanks to increasing public awareness about the cruelty of soring, Big Lick shows are losing attendance as well as corporate and charitable sponsors, while the shows that feature these magnificent animals without subjecting them to painful manipulation are thriving. That’s as it should be.

H.R. 693 will amend the Horse Protection Act to eliminate the failed walking horse industry system of self-policing (i.e., the fox guarding the henhouse), and put the U.S. Department of Agriculture in charge of licensing, training, and oversight of all inspectors, as recommended by the Inspector General’s 2010 audit. It will also ban the use at horse shows of devices that are integral to the soring process, strengthen penalties for violations, and hold abusers accountable. And according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, the legislation will accomplish all of these needed reforms without any additional taxpayer burden.

The PAST Act enjoys broad support from a coalition of the nation’s leading horse industry, veterinary, law enforcement, and animal protection organizations, including the American Horse Council, U.S. Equestrian Federation and 67 other national and state horse groups, the American Veterinary Medical Association, the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association, the American Association of Equine Practitioners, state veterinary groups in all 50 states, the animal protection community, National Sheriffs' Association, Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, key individuals in the Tennessee Walking Horse show world, and major newspapers in Kentucky and Tennessee (the states where soring is most concentrated).

All reputable horse breed and show organizations endorsed the PAST Act. The only ones opposing this non-controversial legislation are those who are involved in this cruel practice and are profiting from it, and their handful of defenders in Congress.

We expect a Senate companion bill to be reintroduced soon by Sens. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, and Mark Warner, D-Va. Please contact your U.S. representative and two U.S. senators now at 202-224-3121 and urge them to cosponsor the PAST Act and do all they can to secure its swift passage.

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

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Steve King, down for the count?

Today, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a resolution of disapproval concerning Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) for recent remarks in which he questioned the offensiveness of white supremacy and white nationalism. Yesterday, the House Republican Steering Committee unanimously voted to exclude Steve King from any positions on House committees in the new 116th Congress, kicking him off the Agriculture, Judiciary, and Small Business Committees. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) also issued a statement condemning King’s words.

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Larry French/AP Images for The HSUS

King’s comments to the New York Times are only the latest signals of his affinity for white nationalism. In 2017, King tweeted that America can’t restore “our civilization with somebody else’s babies.” Last year, King defended his meeting with  a far-right Austrian political party with ties to Nazism, while on a trip funded by a Holocaust memorial group, and retweeted a post from British author and self-professed Nazi sympathizer Mark Collett.

Stripped of his committee assignments, King’s effectiveness as a lawmaker will further shrink. Nowhere will this be more apparent than on the House Agriculture Committee where—attempting to shape policy for an industry central to his home state’s economy—King has launched many of his attacks against animal protection over the years.

These multiple condemnations directly threaten King’s political future. Last week, Iowa State Senator Randy Feenstra announced his intention to challenge King in the 2020 Republican primary, and Iowa’s Republican Governor, Kim Reynolds, stated that she will not support King in the race. King might not even make it to that election: Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah), the 2012 Republican presidential candidate, and Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah) are among the Republicans who have already called for his resignation.  

The hatefulness implicit in King’s commentary concerning white nationalism spills over into his visceral opposition to animal protection. He has consistently made himself an outlier by fighting animal protection proposals of all kinds in Congress.

A prime example is King’s opposition to restricting animal fighting. Last May, King voted against an amendment to the Farm Bill, which sought to clarify that federal prohibitions on animal fighting apply in all U.S. jurisdictions, including U.S. territories. This amendment passed by an overwhelming bipartisan vote of 359-51 and was enacted in December. In 2007, he voted against the Animal Fighting Enforcement Prohibition Act, which strengthened penalties for illegal animal fighting and made it a felony to transport animals across state lines for the purpose of fighting. In 2013, King tried unsuccessfully to block legislation that made it a crime for an adult to attend or bring a child to a dogfight or cockfight.

King is also responsible for one of the worst threats to animal protection and most egregious power grabs in U.S. history. Thankfully, Congress rejected twice—in the 2014 and 2018 Farm Bills—the King amendment that threatened to nullify countless state and local laws regarding animals and a range of other concerns including food safety and the environment.  

As if this weren’t enough, King also has a history of voting against wildlife and equines. He has repeatedly voted to promote the slaughter of American horses for human consumption in foreign countries even though 80 percent of the U.S. public overwhelmingly opposes it. He’s voted for legislation that undermines the Endangered Species Act, removing critical protections for some of America’s most iconic and imperiled species, including grizzly bears and wolves. He also voted to restore extremely cruel and scientifically unjustified methods of trophy hunting on National Park and National Refuge lands in Alaska.

King’s great hostility toward our cause may stem from the same core lack of empathy and ethics that prompt him to embrace a racist ideology that has so bedeviled this nation throughout its history. For that and other reasons, we wholeheartedly applaud the Congress for its resounding rebuke of King’s bigotry and malice.

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