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Equines

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

As racehorse death toll continues to climb, Congress moves to salvage the 'sport of kings'

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

Horses dying at the racetracks with alarming frequency is a sadly familiar scenario of late, but even by that measure the body count over the past week is nothing short of astonishing. Since Friday alone, three horses have been euthanized at Santa Anita Park in California. First, it was a four-year-old gelding, Harliss, who had to be put down after breaking his ankle in a turf race; on Saturday, it was five-year-old Uncontainable, who also broke his ankle during a turf race; and on Sunday, four-year-old Tikkun Olam was injured and later euthanized after colliding with another horse during training.

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Photo courtesy of marlenka/istock.com

There have now been five deaths at Santa Anita since January 1, bringing the number of deaths there to 42 since the beginning of last year. But that’s not the only track where horses are dying. Four horses have died over the last 10 days at the New Orleans Fair Grounds racetrack, and two horses fell and died on opening day at Harrah’s Louisiana Downs, taking the number of deaths on Louisiana tracks to six so far this year.

This is a grave situation, and a shameful one, and you’d think the industry would be racing to clean up its act and implement safeguards to protect its horses. Unfortunately, that has not been the case. While some reform-minded racetracks and state racing commissions have developed and implemented new safety measures, this patchwork effort only helps horses racing at specific racetracks. Above all, there has not been nearly enough momentum among the biggest stakeholders to recognize and correct problems, like the drug crisis that has contributed to thousands of racehorse deaths over the years.

Instead, what we have seen from some members of the industry is a pattern of drugging animals to enhance performance and mask pain, ignoring problems when they arise, and then resorting to obfuscation and cover-ups to explain horse deaths.

Last year, we wrote about how the California Horse Racing Board, comprised of some in the highest echelons of power in the industry, bent and twisted the rules to allow Justify to run in and win the Triple Crown after he failed a drug test only weeks before the Kentucky Derby. Last week, a report released on the death of Mongolian Groom, a horse who died in November at the Breeders' Cup Classic in Santa Anita, said veterinarians missed opportunities to remove the gelding from the $6 million race because of time constraints or deficiencies in the process used to evaluate horses.

The problem began at least as far back as 1980, when Congress decided to leave it up to states to come up with their own rules on what drugs to allow in horseracing. This led to a confusing patchwork of state laws with no uniform national standard regarding which drugs are permitted, or penalties for doping. That in turn has allowed the widespread use of both legal and illegal drugs to flourish, leading to a multitude of problems, for horses and riders alike. Some drugs allow a horse to push through pain, intensifying an underlying injury, or make it possible to force worn-out horses to compete, resulting in career-ending mishaps and even death.

The bottom line is that we need significant medication reform at every racetrack in every state that sponsors horseracing. This means stopping the use of legal and illegal drugs that are used to enhance the performance of equine athletes or mask their pain, and ending the current scenario within the horseracing industry, where those who promote the sport are allowed to police themselves.

There is now a bill in Congress that would do all of this, the Horseracing Integrity Act H.R.1754/S.1820. The Humane Society of the United States, the Humane Society Legislative Fund and the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association have been working with the Jockey Club, along with dozens of other groups, to press for its passage. 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 ban race day medication and substantially increase out-of-competition testing. It 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, an independent entity that oversees testing of athletes at the Olympics and many other sporting events in the United States, and it would create a uniform national standard for drug testing overseen by the new authority.

The HSLF prioritized the bill in its Humane Scorecard push, resulting in huge increases in its bipartisan cosponsor counts. From late September, when we first notified congressional offices that the Horseracing Integrity Act would be scored, the House cosponsor count jumped from 150 to 227 and the Senate count jumped from two to 25. The bill is now moving in Congress with over half the House of Representatives and a quarter of the Senate cosponsoring it. Next week we will be on the Hill, speaking out in its favor at a hearing of the Committee on Energy and Commerce’s Subcommittee on Consumer Protection and Commerce. You too can help by contacting your lawmakers in Congress and asking them to cosponsor the Horseracing Integrity Act if they haven’t yet and press for its swift enactment. Horseracing is in a crisis, beset with a reputation problem and dwindling spectatorship, and with fatalities mounting, there is no time to lose.

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

Tuesday, January 07, 2020

Momentous 1st session of the 116th Congress sets the stage for our 2020 agenda

In the wake of one of our most effective years ever, we’re gearing up for the second session of the 116th Congress. During a time in which legislators are grappling with some of our nation’s most divisive issues, the American people have shown that animal protection remains one of our greatest bipartisan values.

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Photo courtesy of iStock Photo

But many battles loom, and we’ll be fighting for animal welfare on numerous fronts, pursuing the prevention of systemic animal cruelty, the elimination of animal testing for cosmetics, a prohibition on the slaughter of horses for human consumption, and ending America’s contributions to the barbaric practices of shark finning and trophy hunting. Here are some key measures we’ll be working on:

PREVENTING ANIMAL CRUELTY

Humane Cosmetics Act:
Cosmetics tests on animals are poor predictors of human reaction, are painful to animals, and are unnecessary—there are other methods we can use to ensure that products are safe for humans. More than 1.7 billion consumers live in almost 40 countries and U.S. states that have banned the manufacture and sale of cosmetics tested on animals, including the European Union nations, India, Israel, New Zealand, Norway, South Korea, California, Nevada, and Illinois. The Humane Cosmetics Act, which would prohibit the manufacture or sale of cosmetics tested on animals, will create a key incentive for the use of cutting-edge technologies that are more humane, more efficient, and less costly.

Puppy Protection Act and Welfare of our Friends (WOOF) Act:
So many Americans consider pets family members, and yet under the current federal standards, thousands of breeding dogs in puppy mills can spend their entire lives in small, cramped wire cages and the USDA renews licenses to breeders despite their facilities having inhumane conditions. The WOOF Act, prohibits the issuance or renewal of a license to breeders whose previous licenses have been revoked or suspended and to their immediate family members who often serve as a cover for the same abhorrent facility. The Puppy Protection Act would bolster the Animal Welfare Act to improve weak and outdated standards of care.

Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act:
Despite enactment of the Horse Protection Act almost 50 years ago to rein in the cruel practice of horse soring, the deliberate infliction of pain on horses’ legs and hoofs to gain competitive advantage in the show ring continues today. The PAST Act, which the House overwhelmingly approved last year, would end the failed system of industry self-policing, ban the use of devices associated with soring, and strengthen penalties to protect horses from this torment.

Horseracing Integrity Act:
Modern horseracing is still conducted under outdated, haphazard state-by-state drug and medication rules despite its national and international scope. In large part due to race-day enhancement and pain-masking drugs, the U.S. is experiencing some of the highest rates of fatal racing injuries the sport has ever seen. The Horseracing Integrity Act, supported by animal welfare and horseracing industry groups alike, will ban race-day medication, substantially increase out-of-competition testing for racehorses, and create a uniform medication policy under the oversight of a new non-profit headed by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, the official anti-doping agency for the Olympic, Pan American, and Paralympic sports in the U.S.

ANIMAL AND PUBLIC SAFETY

Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act:
Horses—an integral part of American life as loyal companions and comrades in battle—are being exported by the thousands to slaughter for human consumption. They’re shipped abroad for long distances without food, water, or rest in crowded trucks, and the slaughter methods used at foreign plants rarely result in quick, painless deaths. The meat that’s put on the market contains unregulated, toxic chemicals unfit for human consumption. Passage of the SAFE Act would be a clear signal of Congress’s determination to maintain its prohibition on the slaughter of horses in the U.S. and finally end the export of our horses for slaughter.

Big Cat Public Safety Act:
All across the country, tigers, lions, and other big cats languish in substandard conditions caged in people’s backyards and basements and at roadside zoos, suffering inhumane conditions and posing serious public safety risks. Many of these animals are the byproduct of the “cub-petting” industry, which charges people for the chance to feed, play with, and take photos with big cat infants. Once the cats become too large for these activities, they often end up in unqualified hands while new cubs are bred to take their place in cub-petting businesses. The Big Cat Public Safety Act would ban public contact activities with big cats and prohibit possession of big cats by individuals and entities lacking a USDA license. 

Providing Responsible Emergency Plans for Animals at Risk of Emerging Disasters (PREPARED) Act:
Given the increasing frequency and intensity of weather-related emergencies, preparing for disaster must include plans to safely care for and evacuate animals from affected areas. The PREPARED Act would require that entities regulated under the Animal Welfare Act (such as commercial animal dealers, exhibitors, research facilities, and animal carriers) do so. Disaster plans are already required under the accreditation process for research facilities, zoos, and aquariums; the PREPARED Act would ensure that puppy mills, roadside zoos and other outliers also have plans in place.

ENDING SLAUGHTER OF WILDLIFE

Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act:
We’re working closely with the Senate to put this vital legislation over the finish line, following passage of the bill in the House and the Senate Commerce Committee last year. To meet the global demand for shark fin soup, fins cruelly obtained from as many as 73 million sharks are traded on the global market annually. Some shark populations have declined by as much as 90 percent in recent decades. This bill prohibits the commercial trade of shark fins and products containing shark fins, removing the U.S. from this destructive global trade, strengthening the existing U.S. ban on shark finning, and helping preserve our oceans’ fragile ecosystems.

Prohibiting Threatened and Endangered Creature Trophies (ProTECT) Act:
The ProTECT Act would prevent American trophy hunters from importing trophies of species listed under the Endangered Species Act or from killing threatened or endangered species in the U.S. Species listed under the ESA have a demonstrated scientific need for additional protections against population pressures such as poaching, trophy hunting, and other human-caused mortalities. As the world’s largest importer of animal trophies, the U.S. must do more to end the corruption of conservation programs worldwide and push strong development alternatives to trophy hunting.

We’re proud of the difference that we can make because of your support. When you make calls to and email your members of Congress to support animal protection issues and when you take steps to engage others, you make a real difference for animals. In the New Year, we’re counting on your continued engagement, and we look forward to working with you!

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Update: Trump signs omnibus funding package with wins for horses and burros, companion animals, animals in research and more

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

President Trump has signed into law the omnibus appropriations package with major victories for animals, including horses and burros, companion animals, marine mammals and animals in zoos and research facilities.

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Michelle Riley/The HSUS

The package, comprised of two bills (H.R. 1865 and H.R. 1158) funding all federal agencies for Fiscal Year 2020, was passed by the House on Tuesday with bipartisan votes of 297-120 and 280-138, respectively, followed by Senate votes of 71-23 and 81-11 yesterday.

The wins for animals in the package include:

  • Wild horses and burros: The funding package provides an additional $21 million to the Bureau of Land Management’s Wild Horse and Burro Program—funds that can only be accessed after the agency submits a comprehensive plan on how it will implement an aggressive, non-lethal program. The program must be based on scientifically sound, safe and humane fertility control tools that exclude surgical sterilization, an increased focus on adoptions, and relocation of wild horses and burros to larger, more humane pastures instead of perpetually warehousing these animals in holding pens. Additionally, the bill prohibits the BLM and, for the first time ever, also the U.S. Forest Service from killing or sending healthy horses or burros to slaughter.
  • Wildlife trafficking whistleblowers: The package includes the Rescuing Animals With Rewards Act, which authorizes the State Department to award monetary incentives to persons who disclose original information concerning transnational wildlife crimes that result in a successful enforcement action.
  • USDA inspection and enforcement records: Language in the omnibus directs the U.S. Department of Agriculture to promptly resume online posting of all inspection reports and enforcement records under the Animal Welfare Act and Horse Protection Act in their entirety without redactions that obscure the identities of puppy mills, roadside zoos and other businesses cited for violations. This is the first time Congress has included bill language (rather than report language) to fix this problem, and the USDA will have no choice but to follow this directive.
  • Companion animals in domestic violence situations: The package provides $2 million for a new grant program authorized by the 2018 Farm Bill, based on the Pet and Women Safety (PAWS) Act. The grant program will help provide emergency and transitional shelter options for domestic violence survivors with companion animals. House committee report language directs the USDA, and the Departments of Health and Human Services as well as Housing and Urban Development to coordinate implementation during FY20 (House and Senate committee report language not explicitly reversed is deemed agreed to by both chambers in the omnibus).
  • Horse slaughter: Prohibits USDA expenditures on horse slaughter inspections, effectively preventing horse slaughter plants from operating in the U.S. during FY20.
  • Animal Welfare Act enforcement: The House committee report calls on the USDA to require that inspectors document every observed violation, to reverse concealment practices that the agency has promoted during the past few years. The omnibus includes $31,310,000 for Animal Welfare Act (AWA) enforcement.
  • Horse soring: Provides $1 million (a $295,000 increase) for USDA enforcement of the Horse Protection Act (HPA), to crack down on the cruel practice of “soring” Tennessee Walking Horses and related breeds.
  • Alternatives to animal research/testing: Provides a $40 million increase to the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS), which is charged with making direct applications of non-animal alternatives for research and regulatory needs by federal agencies. The additional funds will help speed the transition to non-animal methods.
  • Trafficking of companion animals for research and testing: Renews the prohibition against USDA using funds to license Class B random source dealers who are notorious for trafficking in dogs and cats obtained through theft for research and testing.
  • Use of primates in research: Omnibus report language directs the National Institutes of Health to report to Congress on alternatives to reduce and replace primates in biomedical research.
  • USDA enforcement: House committee report presses the USDA Inspector General to strengthen its animal fighting enforcement and to audit USDA’s enforcement of the AWA, HPA, and Humane Methods of Slaughter Act.
  • Humane slaughter of farm animals: Renews bill and report language directing USDA to ensure that inspectors focus attention on compliance with humane handling rules for live animals as they arrive at slaughter plants and are offloaded and handled in pens, chutes, and stunning areas, and that all inspectors receive robust training.
  • Pet food safety: Provides $500,000 for the Food and Drug Administration to address pentobarbital contamination in pet food, which has caused illness and death in pets.
  • Disaster planning: Continues funding for the USDA to coordinate with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and to support state and local governments’ efforts to plan for protection of people with animals and incorporate lessons learned from previous disasters. Directs the USDA to work with producers that want to voluntarily develop disaster plans to prevent livestock deaths and injuries.
  • Vet care: Provides $8,000,000 for the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment program that encourages veterinarians to locate in underserved rural or urban areas.
  • Wildlife protection funding: Maintains level funding for U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service programs that protect species listed under the Endangered Species Act. Provides an increase of almost 30% from FY19 for the internationally focused Multinational Species Conservation Fund. The omnibus also rejects a proposed cut to the Wolf Livestock Demonstration Program, maintaining funding for its grants supporting proactive, non-lethal measures by livestock producers to reduce the risk of livestock loss by wolves, and to compensate producers for livestock losses caused by wolves.
  • Marine mammals: Provides $3 million to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for North Atlantic right whale conservation, with $1 million specifically reserved for a pilot project for research and development of safer fishing gear to lessen entanglements with these critically endangered whales. Also maintains funding of the Marine Mammal Commission—a key independent federal agency tasked with addressing human impacts on marine mammals and their ecosystems—overcoming its proposed elimination in the President’s budget.
  • Trophy imports: Directs the USFWS to reevaluate its current policy allowing imports of hunting trophies on a case-by-case basis and analyze how targeted investments and technical assistance to the exporting countries' conservation programs would impact the survival of elephants and lions, improve local communities, and sustain species’ populations. The omnibus expresses concern that the current trophy import policy is detrimental and may not adequately determine whether a country has proper safeguards in place to protect species vulnerable to poaching.
  • Wildlife trafficking: Dedicates funds under the State Department and the Department of the Interior to combat the transnational threat of wildlife poaching and illicit wildlife trafficking. Prohibits use of State Department funds by any military units or personnel credibly alleged to have participated in wildlife poaching or trafficking.

We are grateful to the many congressional champions of these provisions with whom we worked over the past year, to House and Senate leadership for keeping the process on track, and to all the legislators who voted for these measures. We also thank President Trump for signing both appropriations bills, helping us create a brighter future for animals in 2020 and beyond.

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

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Urgent alert: Help us stop the USDA's latest attempt to protect puppy millers, horse sorers

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

Recently, in a shocking move, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced its plans to continue to conceal crucial animal welfare records from public view, including inspection reports and enforcement records of puppy mills, roadside zoos, and horse shows where Tennessee walking horses and related breeds are vulnerable to soring. This is a blatant attempt to keep Americans in the dark about how a taxpayer-funded agency is enforcing animal welfare laws, and we urgently need your help to stop it.

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Photo by Meredith Lee/The HSUS

With this proposal, published at the end of October in the Federal Register, the USDA is trying to completely normalize its purge in January 2017 of substantive Animal Welfare Act and Horse Protection Act records from its website. It’s a disservice to the American public and an action meant to let regulated industries and interests carry on without oversight or accountability.

The Humane Society of the United States and the Humane Society Legislative Fund have been fighting a hot war against this lack of transparency within our federal agencies for the last several years because we believe that there ought to be an unambiguous standard when it comes to our government’s commitment to animal welfare. This is one of the most important fights of this kind--to preserve the American public’s right to know how enterprises that keep or use animals are treating them--for many reasons. For instance, recent outbreaks of diseases such as drug-resistant campylobacter infections and brucellosis have been linked to USDA-licensed puppy mills, and the public has a right to know what, if anything, the agency is doing to make sure that animals are cared for in clean and healthy environments.

The institutions, industries and operations now regulated by the USDA are commercial entities that sell or use animals, not individuals who keep animals for their own private companionship. Over the years, access to the USDA's inspection and enforcement records has made it possible for us and others to track the rigor of the government’s efforts to regulate such stakeholders, and in some cases, to use that information to advance or to publicize compelling animal welfare concerns. Were this misconceived proposal to go into effect, our government would give puppy millers, horse sorers, laboratory managers, roadside zoo operators and other entities a free hand to conduct their affairs with no fear of public scrutiny.

We cannot let this happen. So far, more than 5,000 people have commented on this regulatory change, almost all in opposition to it. But in order to win this fight, we need more people to weigh in before the Dec. 26 deadline. Please leave your comment at this link, and let the USDA know quickly that you do not approve of this regulatory change that blocks public online access to key animal welfare records. The American people needs full searchable access to this data to ensure government transparency and proper enforcement of the AWA and HPA—laws that are intended to protect animals and the public.

Please use or personalize this message:

I am writing to oppose the USDA’s decision to further hide crucial Animal Welfare Act (AWA) and Horse Protection Act (HPA) records from the public. USDA should reinstate its public, searchable database for all AWA and HPA inspection reports and enforcement records including warning letters, administrative complaints, stipulations, settlement agreements and court orders, consistent with USDA’s practice of many years prior to 2017.

Full access to this data is crucial to ensure government transparency and proper enforcement of the AWA and HPA, laws which are intended to protect animals and the public. The parties regulated under these laws are not private individuals, but commercial entities acting as businesses, so the personal privacy concerns cited by USDA when removing the records from its site are invalid.

Moreover, the public has a vital interest in the information. Inspection and enforcement records allow, for example, a consumer to check if a puppy breeder is complying with the AWA to ensure the animals are being treated adequately and to prevent the spread of disease. Providing consumers access to this information encourages regulated entities to comply with the law. These records are also needed to determine whether USDA is doing its job under the AWA and HPA. Rather than protecting commercial entities by concealing their bad behavior from the public, USDA should focus on the legitimate public interests in government transparency, animal welfare, and public health and safety.

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

Monday, December 16, 2019

BREAKING NEWS: Congress has reached a deal to fund the government and it’s good news for animals!

There are various approaches the HSLF team uses to bring about changes for animals, and one of our best tools is to pursue bill and report language in the annual appropriations bills that Congress must enact each year to fund the federal government and its agencies. We’ve been hard at work on this all year long—and it paid off in significant wins. We are thrilled to report that the U.S. House and Senate have struck a deal on a Fiscal Year 2020 appropriations package (known as an “omnibus”), which impacts our companion animals, wildlife, wild horses and burros, marine mammals, and animals in zoos and research facilities. Here are some highlights in the package:

Capitol
iStock Photo

  • Wild horses and burros—Provides an additional $21 million to the Bureau of Land Management’s Wild Horse and Burro Program, funds that can only be accessed after the agency submits a comprehensive plan on how it will implement an aggressive, non-lethal program. The program must be based on scientifically-sound, safe and humane fertility control tools excluding surgical sterilization, an increased focus on adoptions, and relocation of wild horses and burros to larger, more humane pastures instead of perpetually warehousing these animals in holding pens. Additionally, the bill prohibits the BLM and, for the first time ever, also the U.S. Forest Service from killing or sending to slaughter healthy horses or burros.
  • Wildlife trafficking whistleblowers—Includes the Rescuing Animals With Rewards Act, which authorizes the State Department to award monetary incentives to persons who disclose original information concerning transnational wildlife crimes that result in a successful enforcement action.
  • USDA data purge—Directs USDA to promptly resume online posting of all inspection reports and enforcement records under the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) and Horse Protection Act (HPA), in their entirety without redactions that obscure the identities of puppy mills, roadside zoos, and other businesses cited for violations. This is the first time Congress has included bill language (rather than report language) to fix this problem, and USDA will have no choice but to follow this directive.
  • PAWS—Provides $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. House committee report language directs the U.S. Departments of Agriculture, Health and Human Services, and Housing and Urban Development to coordinate implementation during FY20 (House and Senate committee report language not explicitly reversed is deemed agreed to by both chambers in the omnibus).
  • Horse slaughter—Prohibits USDA expenditures on horse slaughter inspections, effectively preventing horse slaughter plants from operating in the U.S. during FY20.
  • AWA enforcement—House committee report calls on USDA to require that inspectors document every observed violation, to reverse concealment practices that the agency has promoted during the past few years. The omnibus includes $31,310,000 for Animal Welfare Act enforcement.
  • Horse soring—Provides $1 million (a $295,000 increase) for USDA enforcement of the HPA, to crack down on the cruel practice of “soring” Tennessee Walking Horses and related breeds.
  • Class B random source dealers—Renews the prohibition against USDA using funds to license these dealers who are notorious for trafficking in dogs and cats obtained through theft for research and testing.
  • Use of primates in research—Omnibus report language directs the National Institutes of Health to report to Congress on alternatives to reduce and replace primates in biomedical research.
  • USDA Inspector General—House committee report presses this office to strengthen its animal fighting enforcement and to audit USDA’s enforcement of the AWA, HPA, and Humane Methods of Slaughter Act.
  • Humane slaughter—Renews bill and report language directing USDA to ensure that inspectors focus attention on compliance with humane handling rules for live animals as they arrive at slaughter plants and are offloaded and handled in pens, chutes, and stunning areas, and that all inspectors receive robust training.
  • Pet food safety—Provides $500,000 for the Food and Drug Administration to address pentobarbital contamination in pet food, which has caused illness and death in pets.
  • Disaster planning—Continues funding for USDA to coordinate with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and to support state and local governments’ efforts to plan for protection of people with animals and incorporate lessons learned from previous disasters. Directs USDA to work with producers that want to voluntarily develop disaster plans to prevent livestock deaths and injuries.
  • Vet care—Provides $8,000,000 for the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment program that encourages veterinarians to locate in underserved rural or urban areas.
  • Wildlife protection funding—Maintains level funding for U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service programs that protect species listed under the Endangered Species Act. Provides an increase of almost 30% from FY19 for the internationally focused Multinational Species Conservation Fund. The omnibus also rejects a proposed cut to the Wolf Livestock Demonstration Program, maintaining funding for its grants supporting proactive, non-lethal measures by livestock producers to reduce the risk of livestock loss by wolves, and to compensate producers for livestock losses caused by wolves.
  • Marine mammals—Provides $3 million to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for North Atlantic right whale conservation, with $1 million specifically reserved for a pilot project for research and development of safer fishing gear to lessen entanglements with these critically endangered whales. Also maintains funding of the Marine Mammal Commission—a key independent federal agency tasked with addressing human impacts on marine mammals and their ecosystems—overcoming its proposed elimination in the President’s budget.
  • Trophy imports—Directs the USFWS to reevaluate its current policy allowing imports of hunting trophies on a case-by-case basis and analyze how targeted investments and technical assistance to the exporting countries' conservation programs would impact the survival of elephants and lions, improve local communities, and sustain species’ populations. The omnibus expresses concern that the current trophy import policy is detrimental and may not adequately determine whether a country has proper safeguards in place to protect species vulnerable to poaching.
  • Wildlife trafficking—Dedicates funds under the State Department and the Department of the Interior to combat the transnational threat of wildlife poaching and illicit wildlife trafficking. Prohibits use of State Department funds by any military units or personnel credibly alleged to have participated in wildlife poaching or trafficking. 

These victories are the product of months of effort, as we worked with Appropriations Committee leaders in the House and Senate and mobilized constituent support and strong bipartisan engagement for them. The package demonstrates again how animal protection transcends party lines and reflects core American values. We are hopeful that the House and Senate will swiftly approve this package and President Trump will sign it into law before Friday’s deadline, to bring all these accomplishments over the finish line.

Friday, December 13, 2019

HSLF and HSUS deliver big wins for animals in 2019: Our banner year in the nation's capital

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

Given the highly polarized atmosphere in Washington, DC, these days, our crucial bipartisan wins for animals in 2019 give great cause for celebration. Thanks to the support and engagement of countless Americans, we hit our marks this year. We succeeded in getting one of our highest priorities, a landmark federal anti-cruelty bill, signed into law. And that’s not all. Read on to learn about some of the other achievements you helped to make possible.

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Photo by Mark Bacon/Alamy Stock Photo

Animal Cruelty

The Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture (PACT) Act, P.L. 116-72, enacted on November 25 following unanimous approval in the Senate and House, strengthens the 2010 federal animal "crush video" law by banning extreme animal cruelty in or affecting interstate commerce regardless of whether a video was produced.

Horse Soring

The Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, H.R. 693, won a sweeping bipartisan vote of 333-96 in the House in July, and S. 1007, the identical companion bill, counts half the Senate as cosponsors. The PAST Act cracks down on the cruel practice of "soring" Tennessee Walking Horses and related breeds.

Wildlife Protection

With our urging, Congress moved forward on measures to address some of the most urgent threats to the world’s iconic and at-risk wild species, including:

  • Wildlife trafficking—The Rescuing Animals With Rewards (RAWR) Act, H.R. 97/S. 1590, passed both the House and Senate. It authorizes the U.S. Department of State to target wildlife traffickers globally and combat international crime networks, including terrorist organizations. We hope to see the President sign this bill into law soon.
  • Sharks—The Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act, H.R. 737/S. 877, passed the House by a resounding 310-107 vote in November, having cleared the Senate Commerce Committee in April. It prohibits the commercial trade in this country of shark fins and products containing shark fins, thereby reducing global demand for shark fins, helping reduce cruel finning and protecting ocean ecosystems.
  • WhalesThe Scientific Assistance for Very Endangered (SAVE) North Atlantic Right Whales Act, H.R. 1568/S. 2453, won approval by the House Natural Resources Committee in October and the Senate Commerce Committee in November. With no more than 400 North Atlantic right whales surviving, this bill provides vital federal funding for research to develop, test and use innovative technologies and other strategies to reduce the two main threats to the species: entanglements in fishing gear and vessel collisions.
  • Big cats—The Big Cat Public Safety Act, H.R. 1380/S. 2561, received House Natural Resources Committee approval in September. It reduces the number of captive tigers, lions, cougars, and other big cats living in substandard conditions and protects public safety by banning public contact activities—such as “cub petting” and photo ops—and by prohibiting possession of big cats by individuals and entities lacking a USDA license.
  • Trophy imports—The Conserving Ecosystems by Ceasing the Importation of Large Animal Trophies (CECIL) Act, H.R. 2245, passed the House Natural Resources Committee in September. This bill substantially restricts the import and hunting of any species listed or proposed to be listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act.

Appropriations

We brought home some big victories for animals in the Fiscal Year (FY) 2019 omnibus bill signed into law in February, and within the House and/or Senate FY20 Appropriations bills, including:

  • PAWS—The Senate bill provides $3 million for a grant program authorized by the 2018 Farm Bill, based on the Pet and Women Safety (PAWS) Act, to support emergency and transitional shelter options for domestic violence survivors with companion animals. The House bill provides $2 million for these grants and includes language directing relevant federal agencies to coordinate implementation during FY20.
  • Horse slaughter—The House and Senate bills both prohibit USDA expenditures on horse slaughter inspections, effectively preventing horse slaughter plants from operating in the U.S. during FY20.
  • USDA data purge—The House bill directs USDA to promptly resume online posting of all inspection reports and enforcement records under the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) and Horse Protection Act (HPA), in their entirety without redactions that obscure the identities of puppy mills, roadside zoos, and other businesses cited for violations.
  • AWA enforcement—The House committee report calls on USDA to require that inspectors document every observed violation, to reverse concealment practices adopted by the agency in recent years.
  • Wild horses and burros—The House bill provides $6 million for a non-lethal pilot program using scientifically-based safe and humane fertility control tools excluding surgical sterilization, an increased focus on adoptions, and relocation to larger, more humane pasture facilities instead of perpetual warehousing in holding pens. The Senate bill provides $35 million to expand these humane and non-lethal management strategies to all wild horses and burros in the Bureau of Land Management’s care, and both the House and Senate bills prohibit the BLM and U.S. Forest Service from killing or sending to slaughter healthy wild horses or burros.
  • Animal testing alternatives—The House bill provides $39.4 million more than the President proposed for the Environmental Protection Agency’s Computational Toxicology Program and Endocrine Disruptor Program, which develop replacements for animal tests.

We also delivered big results on the regulatory front, including:

Animal Testing

In September, the EPA announced that it plans to phase out and end all animal testing on mammals for chemicals and pesticides. Instead, the agency will focus on non-animal alternative technologies that are faster, more reliable and do not cause suffering. The agency plans to substantially reduce animal tests, including those it commissions in-house, as well as those that it requires businesses to conduct, by 2025, and to end them altogether by 2035.

Wild Horses

In March, the BLM agreed to return to a 2014 policy that allows individuals and organizations to buy only four wild horses over a six-month period, a necessary safeguard to ensure wild horses and burros aren’t bought by kill buyers who will send them to slaughter. Last year, the administration had put in place a new sales policy that allowed 25 horses to be purchased at a time, with no time limit between the purchases.

Licensing Requirements for the Animal Welfare Act

In March, USDA proposed a rule regarding much-needed changes to AWA licensing procedures. The rule includes a number of positive regulatory changes, such as requiring that licensees demonstrate compliance with the AWA regulations before being issued a license or a renewal, and requiring that dog breeding facilities provide continuous access to water, annual veterinary checks, and immunizations for diseases.

Relocation of Wolves to Isle Royale National Park

In March of 2018, the National Park Service announced its decision to augment the dwindling Isle Royale, Michigan wolf population with 20-30 animals within three years, as it was crucial for genetic diversity and ecological stability of this National Park. Currently, there are 17 wolves in the park, up from 2 when the relocation effort began.

When you sign on as a supporter of the Humane Society of the United States and the Humane Society Legislative Fund, it’s because you want to see the passage and implementation of positive protection measures for animals, prohibitions against cruelty across the range of issues, and legislative and regulatory action that makes both our nation and our planet much, much better for animals. We’re gearing up big-time for 2020, and we’re going to bring fight, poise, and will to the ambitious agenda we’ve set for ourselves. We work hard for animals, but we’re also working hard for you, our donors and supporters, and we never forget the simple fact that none of this would be possible without your support. We’re counting on you to stay with us in the fight for ALL animals in 2020.

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, 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Photo courtesy of Bryant Taylor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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