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Federal Legislation

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

SAVE them; it’s the right thing to do

The North Atlantic right whale was once common across the entire Atlantic. Unfortunately, this ocean giant (at more than 50 feet long and weighing some 70 tons) became the focus of whaling efforts because the species was ‘the right whale to hunt’—thus its name. Right whales are huge but slow moving and so full of fat that they floated when struck. Subsequently, by the late 1800s, the right whale had been exterminated across most of its range and hunted to the point of extinction in North America. Their population now numbers only some 400 animals and, while whaling no longer threatens the species, it faces the modern perils of entanglement in commercial fishing gear and collisions with the large and fast ships that power across its remaining US and Canadian east coast range. It’s now the most endangered large whale species in the world.

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Photo courtesy of noaa.gov

Today, Senators Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., stepped up to help protect these majestic creatures by introducing the Scientific Assistance for Very Endangered North Atlantic (SAVE) Right Whales Act, which will fund promising research and recovery actions to halt the alarming loss of North Atlantic right whales in our coastal waters. Reps. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., and John Rutherford, R-Fla., introduced a companion bill in the House of Representatives (H.R. 1568).

The legislation would establish a grant program to fund collaborative projects between states, nongovernmental organizations, and stakeholders in the fishing and shipping industries with the goal of reducing the impacts of human activities on North Atlantic right whales. These funds—granted over a 5-year period—are desperately needed. With some energy and thought, we should be able to find ways to reconcile the interests of stakeholder industries while ensuring the survival of an iconic species that has suffered so much at human hands.

With our oceans warming, right whales are roaming further afield looking for food—they consume tiny plankton that live only in cold waters. That means that prior strategies of setting a short seasonal fishing closure in a small, high-use feeding area, or restricting traffic in a few busy shipping lanes along a predictable migratory route are no longer working to reduce the risk of whale deaths. In fact, some 28 North Atlantic right whales have been found dead just since 2017 with only 12 calves born in the same period.

This decline foretells disaster and demise for North Atlantic right whales unless we embrace the challenge of curbing the most serious threats to their survival, right away. Swift passage of the SAVE Right Whales Act will go a long way toward ensuring that this season’s newborn right whales will grow up not only to replenish their struggling species, but to flourish in a safer, healthier, and better marine environment. Please take a moment to contact your legislators and ask them to support this critical bill—we don’t have a moment to lose if we want to save this species.

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!

Monday, August 26, 2019

U.S. proposes new rule to save endangered right whales

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

Right whales are critically endangered, with no more than 400 individuals surviving along the U.S. and Canadian coast. But we have an opportunity right now to help save this species. The National Marine Fisheries Service is considering a rule that would reduce one of the greatest threats to the survival of right whales, and it is critical that you weigh in.

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Photo courtesy of noaa.gov

Less than half of the world’s remaining North Atlantic right whales are female and, since 2017, only 12 calves have been born. In those same years 28 right whales were found dead either from being hit by large ships or becoming fatally entangled in commercial fishing gear used in lobster and crab fishing. The species is declining. Unless we act fast, right whales could face extinction, but not before they have endured terrible suffering.

Imagine a heavy rope tied tightly around your leg that you have to drag everywhere you go. The rope slowly cuts into your flesh, affecting your ability to walk, eat or sleep, and you could die of infection or starvation over a period of weeks or months. This is what right whales face when they become entangled in fishing gear. The proposed rule would restrict where and how often fishermen can set their gear, potentially sparing suffering—and the lives—of many whales.

In 2018, the Humane Society of the United States, along with partner organizations, filed suit against the National Marine Fisheries Service. We did so as it became clear that the U.S. government was not acting to impose restrictions on fisheries to reduce the increasing numbers of entanglement-related deaths in the United States. In 2012, in the wake of several fatal collisions with ships near the busiest port areas along the eastern seaboard, our coalition successfully petitioned the U.S. government to designate areas where ships are required to reduce speeds when and where right whales are expected to be present. In 2016, the NMFS dramatically expanded the boundaries of coastal habitats designated as “critical habitat” after we petitioned for—and sued to get—this additional protection.

The HSUS and Humane Society International have also pressed the Canadian government to take action to reduce right whale deaths in its waters. As a result, this year Canada restricted more fisheries and designated specific shipping areas with a seasonal slow speed requirement.

In Congress, HSLF and the HSUS are supporting passage of the SAVE Right Whales Act, H.R. 1568, introduced by Reps. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., and John Rutherford, R-Fla. The act would authorize $5 million per year for research on North Atlantic right whale conservation over the next 10 years. The House of Representatives included additional funding for right whale conservation in its Fiscal Year 2020 appropriations bill (H.R. 3055) and we are urging the Senate to do so as well.

We also hope that the NMFS will go further in its proposed rule by creating seasonal closures to risk-prone fishing gear in key areas of the Northeast during the time when right whales are feeding in the area. This would include additional funding for research into fishing gear that does not pose a risk of deadly entanglement; the mandatory use of marked fishing lines in lobster and crab fisheries to identify and implement targeted risk reduction measures; and increased enforcement to ensure that fisheries comply with federal mandates.

Right whales have suffered terribly for many decades, and they are perhaps the world’s most endangered large whale species. Whalers named them right whales because they are slow-moving and live close to the coast, making them the “right” whale to kill. Their rapidly-declining numbers led to these whales gaining international protection in the 1930s, after which their numbers increased slowly, but they are declining once again as human activities threaten their survival.

You can help to ensure that our government acts to protect these creatures before it is too late. The NMFS recently held public hearings and has promised a court that it will propose new restrictions by early next year. Please leave your comment here and let the agency know you support these and additional protections. The time to help right whales is right now.

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

Monday, July 29, 2019

This Shark Week, help save sharks from cruelties like finning

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

There was a time when sharks were routinely portrayed by popular media as aggressive and ruthless predators—animals to be afraid of and to avoid, or even worse, to kill. But today, with growing awareness and increasingly positive public attitudes toward these magnificent creatures, we know that sharks themselves are in terrible danger from human actions, with their numbers in the wild declining sharply as a result of overfishing and cruel activities like shark finning. In fact, up to 73 million sharks are killed each year for their fins. 

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Photo by Vanessa Mignon

Shark Week, which began yesterday on the Discovery Channel, is evolving accordingly and now offers television viewers an opportunity to learn more about these awesome creatures who play an important role in the marine ecosystems and who could, unless the world takes critical steps, become extinct.

We have advocated for sharks for a long time here at the Humane Society Legislative Fund, the Humane Society of the United States, and Humane Society International. Shark finning is one of the most grisly and ecologically wasteful forms of animal cruelty there is, and the continuing market for shark fins in countries around the world is a priority target for our reform efforts.

Earlier this year, we worked with members of Congress to reintroduce the Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act, H.R. 737/S. 877, that would end U.S. participation in the global shark fin trade. The House bill is led by Reps. Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan, D-Northern Mariana Islands, and Michael McCaul, R-Texas, and it has 222 bipartisan cosponsors—more than half the House. The counterpart bill in the Senate is led by Sens. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va.

We are putting our might behind passing this important bill, and last week, we hosted a briefing for the House of Representatives to draw members’ attention to the destructive transnational shark fin trade.

The featured guests were Brian and Sandy Stewart, producers of the documentary film Sharkwater Extinction. They treated a packed room of congressional staff to excerpts of their late son Rob Stewart’s award-winning film uncovering the ecologically damaging trade in shark fins, and met with lawmakers to discuss the urgent need to pass the Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act.

Stewart was a courageous filmmaker and fierce ocean advocate who tragically lost his life in a diving accident while filming two years ago. His work was invaluable to raising awareness of the shark fin trade, and helped change public sentiment toward sharks, turning many people worldwide into shark advocates. His parents are traveling the world, carrying on his mission through education and political action.

Rob’s work was also integral to getting his home country, Canada—the largest importer of shark fins outside Asia—to pass a landmark bill earlier this year that prohibits the trade in shark fins nationwide as well as finning in Canadian waters. HSI/Canada partnered with the Stewarts and other shark advocates to introduce and pass this bill.

The HSUS and HSI have also worked on ending the global demand for shark fins through public education and legislation elsewhere. HSI affiliates have won bans on shark finning in India, Taiwan, and the European Union, and its public awareness campaigns on reducing shark fin consumption in China, Taiwan and Hong Kong have reached millions of people. HSI is also advocating for international protections for mako sharks at the 18th meeting of the Conference of the Parties of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and is collecting signatures from supporters urging international leaders to adopt these protections.

Stateside, the HSUS has worked to get shark fin trade bans passed in 13 states, including Hawaii and Texas, and three U.S. territories; and more states are considering bans.

Our work, and the work of advocates like Rob Stewart, has led to a sea change in how the world views sharks. In addition to the legislative successes and steps forward, several dozen hotel chains, airlines and global shipping companies no longer serve or transport shark fins as a result of relentless advocacy by animal protection organizations like ours.

The global momentum to protect sharks is growing and our country needs to be part of it. Sharks are too precious to lose—they are top predators in the oceans and play a critical role in the balance of marine ecosystems. As you watch these magnificent creatures on your television screens this week, we hope you will take the time to also make a call to your senators and your representative to ask them to cosponsor the Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act. Sharks deserve our protection now more than ever.

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

Thursday, July 25, 2019

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

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

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

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Photo by the HSUS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Justice for Cecil and the other victims of trophy hunting

It’s been four years since an American trophy hunter and his guide lured an African lion named Cecil out of his protected home in the Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe and killed him. The appalling circumstances of Cecil’s death sparked worldwide outrage, and drew attention to a shocking truth about the responsibility of American citizens and the United States government for such tragic slaughter. Unbeknownst to most Americans, the United States is the world’s largest importer not only of wildlife trophies in general, but also of species listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act. The U.S. imports 70 percent of global trophy exports of internationally protected threatened and/or endangered species. And all the while, the U.S. based Safari Club International and other trophy hunting interest groups have pushed to expand their range of options for killing and importation of these imperiled species, and to insinuate themselves into the deliberations of federal agencies responsible for America’s global wildlife policies and initiatives.

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Photo by Vanessa Mignon

Today, the Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Oceans, and Wildlife of the U.S. House of Representatives produced a glimmer of hope that there actually is a branch of government willing and ready to restrict and even to eliminate our nation’s encouragement and abetting of the senseless slaughter of wildlife through a lax import policy concerning trophy parts. The committee held a hearing on H.R. 2245, the Conserving Ecosystems by Ceasing the Importation of Large Animal Trophies Act of 2019—the CECIL Act—which would substantially restrict the import and export of any species listed or proposed to be listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act. I extend sincere appreciation to House Natural Resources Chairman Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., and his colleagues for introducing the CECIL Act and to Water, Oceans, and Wildlife Subcommittee Chairman Jared Huffman, D-Calif. for holding this important hearing. The bill makes sense, and it would go a long way toward stopping the flow of blood and trophies.

Iris Ho, Humane Society International Senior Wildlife Programs and Policy Specialist, testified at the hearing highlighting the true nature of the trophy hunting industry. At its heart, it is one that encourages the killing of rare animals, ignores science, tramples on conservation, disregards wildlife laws, and fuels corruption and wildlife trafficking. During her testimony Ms. Ho noted that “there is irrefutable scientific evidence that trophy hunting has contributed to substantial declines in lion and leopard populations across Africa that have put these species in danger of extinction. Deliberate removals of animals by trophy hunters have cascading effects by disrupting social cohesion and population stability.”

Trophy hunting is a moral outrage on its own terms, but it also adversely impacts communities in the range nations of the targeted species. Local economies will pay the price if key wildlife disappears. Wildlife watching tourism—like photographic safaris—contribute significantly more sustainable revenue and jobs than trophy hunting. Trophy hunting contributes only 0.03% of the annual GDP of eight African countries surveyed in 2017, supporting only 7,500 job, whereas wildlife watching tourism contributes significantly more by supporting 24 million jobs and generating $48 billion for the economy. By killing majestic animals for a one-time fee, trophy hunting cripples current and future tourism industries and harms opportunities of much greater economic potential for local communities in range state nations.   

There’s an even bigger point to consider. Iconic wildlife like African lions and elephants belong to the world and not to the elite few who see them merely as trophies to mount on their walls. We owe it to Cecil and the thousands of other animals like him who have died at the hands of trophy hunters to do our very best to protect them. Moreover, we owe it to ourselves. We have the power to reshape our nation’s policies and conduct when it comes to reckless and ecologically disastrous trophy hunting, and we should use it. Please take a moment to call your U.S Representative at 202- 224-3121 and ask them to  cosponsor H.R 2245, the CECIL Act.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Our animal protection agenda wins big in House Appropriations funding package

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

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

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photo by iStock.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, June 17, 2019

Horse deaths at Santa Anita underscore need for racing reform nationwide

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

The number of horses dying at the Santa Anita racetrack in California since December 2018 has led to widespread concern in the horseracing world and beyond, and prompted California Gov. Gavin Newsom to call for closing the racetrack until the safety of the horses can be guaranteed. These mysterious deaths—29 so far—also underscore why we have been calling for urgent reforms within the horseracing industry.

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Photo courtesy of marlenka/istock.com

The causes of the horse deaths at Santa Anita are under investigation, and one of the explanations in play is the rampant drugging of horses to get them onto the track when they should be resting and recovering from injuries.

The Stronach Group, owner of Santa Anita Park, has introduced new safety initiatives, including better veterinary oversight in the form of a five-member team of independent veterinarians and stewards who will provide additional review of horses’ medical, training, and racing history and will have the authority to scratch horses that do not appear fit to run. 

That’s good but it’s not nearly enough. We shouldn’t be waiting for crisis to strike before acting to ensure the safety of racehorses. Horseracing is in a state of crisis, and we need urgent nationwide reform. That’s why we are supporting the Horseracing Integrity Act, H.R. 1754/S. 1820, a federal bill to regulate the use of drugs and medication in racehorses. Almost all American racehorses are injected with race-day medication, a practice banned by nearly every other country, and it’s time for the United States to catch up with the rest of the world.

Last week, we joined horseracing industry leaders to provide a briefing before the Congressional Animal Protection Caucus on the bill, sponsored by Reps. Paul Tonko, D-N.Y., and Andy Barr, R-Ky., in the House, and by Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Martha McSally, R-Ariz., in the Senate. Its passage would create the Horseracing Anti-Doping and Medication Control Authority, a private, not-for-profit regulatory authority established and led by the United States Anti-Doping Agency or USADA, to implement rules regarding the use of permitted and prohibited substances and develop anti-doping education, research, testing, and adjudication programs.

Currently there is no national rulebook for horseracing and 38 separate racing jurisdictions have separate and remarkably different rules that govern the sport in each of their states. This patchwork of laws has jeopardized the safety of horses, led to inconsistent and confusing rules, and given cheaters ample opportunity to game the system, with horses and jockeys paying the price when a horse breaks down on the track.

The Horseracing Integrity Act would address pervasive drug use in the industry while enhancing oversight. The bill includes stiff penalties for cheating that apply nationwide, with possible sanctions including lifetime bans from horseracing, forfeiture of purses, and monetary fines and penalties. It would also, importantly, ban race-day medication of horses, and require an increase in out-of-competition testing.

Under the current system, trainers often know when horses will be tested and which drugs will be screened for. This system has been exploited by racehorse trainers. One trainer, Stephanie Beattie, testified during the 2017 doping trial of two-time Penn National trainer Murray Rojas that she routinely had her horses illegally treated with medications on race day by the same veterinarians who provided drugs to Rojas. “Almost everybody did. 95 to 98%. It was a known practice. We wanted to win, and they weren’t testing for those drugs at that time,” she said.

At Santa Anita, despite the concerns, the organizers continue to race horses. We have called for them to stop until the investigation results have been released and until reforms are implemented in full. Meanwhile, we will be doing all we can to push for the passage of the Horseracing Integrity Act in Congress, and we need your help. You can play a critical role in protecting racehorses by contacting your federal legislators. Ask them to cosponsor this important bill to ensure that America’s equine athletes are safe on the racetracks. 

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

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Agriculture spending bill directs USDA to resume posting inspection reports; prevents horse slaughter; funds domestic violence/pet shelter program

The House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee has just voted to approve its Fiscal Year 2020 bill, and there’s great news for animals, including wildlife, companion animals, and horses.

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Photo by Meredith Lee/The HSUS

The bill directs the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in no uncertain terms, to resume online posting of all inspection reports and enforcement records under the Animal Welfare Act and Horse Protection Act, without redactions that obscure the identities of puppy mills, roadside zoos, and other businesses cited for abusing animals in their care. It requires the agency to restore these records on its website, in a searchable format and in their entirety, within 60 days of the bill’s enactment.

We have been fighting for this outcome since the agency abruptly purged this information from its website in February 2017, leaving Americans in the dark. Renewed access to these taxpayer-financed records is crucial for deterring violations, guiding consumer decision-making, and holding the USDA accountable for its enforcement efforts.

Among other key provisions, the bill would:

  • Prohibit government spending on horse slaughter inspections, effectively preventing horse slaughter in the United States for human consumption. This “defund” language has been enacted nearly every year since 2005, but it wasn’t included in last year’s House bill (the Senate had to insist on its inclusion in the final package). This is the first time it’s been part of the House chairman’s base bill. Reps. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., and Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., led a letter signed by 111 Representatives seeking this provision.
  • Provide shelter options for people with pets who are fleeing domestic violence: The bill includes $2 million to fund a new grant program authorized by the 2018 Farm Bill, based on the Pet and Women Safety (PAWS) Act, which will provide emergency and transitional shelter options for domestic violence survivors with companion animals. Abusers often threaten or inflict harm on pets to exert control over their partners and prevent them from leaving. Only 3% of domestic violence shelters currently allow pets, so these funds will help ensure that more facilities are able to accommodate them or arrange for pet shelter. Rep. Katherine Clark, D-Mass., introduced the PAWS Act and led efforts to secure this funding.
  • Crack down on horse soring: The bill provides a $294,000 increase (raising the program’s funding to $1 million) for stronger USDA enforcement of the Horse Protection Act. Weak oversight of this law has allowed the cruel practice of “soring” to persist—with unscrupulous trainers continuing to deliberately inflict pain on the hooves and legs of Tennessee Walking Horses and related breeds using caustic chemicals, chains, weighted shoes, hard objects, cutting, and other gruesome techniques to force them to perform an artificially high-stepping gait known as the "Big Lick" and gain unfair competitive advantage at horse shows. 
  • Enforce humane slaughter requirements: The bill maintains staffing for inspections and enforcement related to the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act. Oversight of humane handling rules at slaughter facilities is vital not only to protect animals from abuses like those documented in HSUS undercover investigations, but also to reduce the chance of associated food safety risks and costly product recalls.
  • Renew the prohibition on licensing Class B dealers: The bill prevents USDA from using funds to license “Class B random source” dealers, who are notorious for obtaining cats and dogs through fraudulent means, including pet theft, holding them in awful conditions and then selling them into research. Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Calif., championed this language.

Our biggest thanks go to subcommittee Chairman Sanford Bishop, D-Ga., for his extraordinary leadership in including these items in the chairman’s bill that he put forward. Thanks also to subcommittee Ranking Member Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., for his support of the bill, to all the legislators who championed these pro-animal measures, and Reps. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., and Christopher Smith, R-N.J., for their outstanding bipartisan mobilization of 188 Representatives who requested many of these provisions.

This bill demonstrates, once again, that legislators across the political spectrum agree on the need for stronger animal protections. We are still a long way from final enactment of this legislation, but it’s off to a very strong start and we are determined to see these important provisions over the finish line.

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