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In the News

Friday, August 23, 2019

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

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

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

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Photo by Meredith Lee/The HSUS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

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

By Brad Pyle

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

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Photo by Mark Bacon/Alamy Stock Photo

Joe Biden

Joe Biden was a strong supporter of animal protection legislation during his many years in the U.S. Senate, and consistently received high marks on the Humane Scorecard.

As Vice President, Biden worked to include language in the federal budget to prohibit the USDA from inspecting horse slaughterhouses, effectively ending the practice in the United States.

In his last session in Congress, Sen. Biden cosponsored measures to stop horse slaughterupgrade the penalties for animal fighting, and ban the possession of fighting dogs and attendance at a dogfight.

Biden has also led the fight on important animal protection issues. He was the co-author with Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) in the 108th Congress on legislation to ban the netting of dolphins by commercial tuna fishermen. He was the lead author of a bill in the 107th Congress to prohibit trophy hunting of captive exotic mammals in fenced enclosures, and he successfully secured passage of the bill through the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Biden’s presidential platform points to ecosystem impacts and accelerating species and biodiversity loss as part of a rationale for a comprehensive climate change policy.

Kamala Harris

Kamala Harris has a steady record of supporting animal protection, achieving a score of “100” every year since being elected to the U.S. Senate. In the current congress, Harris is cosponsoring legislation to create a felony penalty for malicious animal cruelty and to crack down on horse soring abuses.

As California’s Attorney General, Harris successfully defended that state’s law on the sale of inhumane and unsafe battery cage eggs. Harris and her team also defended California’s ban on the possession and sale of shark fins, which is contributing to the widespread decimation in shark species worldwide.

Cory Booker

Cory Booker has championed animal protection legislation in the U.S. Senate since first being elected in 2013.

In the current session, Booker is sponsoring legislation to end the domestic shark fin trade and cosponsoring legislation to create a felony penalty for malicious animal cruelty and crack down on horse soring abuses.

In 2016, Booker successfully fought for reforms to the Toxic Substances Control Act to give the Environmental Protection Agency an unmistakable mandate from Congress that it must continue to embrace 21st century science and wean itself off outdated animal testing protocols.

In previous sessions, Booker co-filed an amendment to the Farm Bill which would have corrected abuses by commodity checkoff programs such as those for beef, pork, and eggs. An identical amendment was incorporated into the House Farm Bill by an overwhelming bipartisan vote of 359-51. He also introduced legislation to clarify that federal prohibitions on animal fighting apply equally to all U.S. jurisdictions, including U.S. territories.

Julián Castro

Julián Castro has released a comprehensive animal welfare plan as part of his presidential platform. This plan includes a pathway to increase spaying and neutering, including grant programs to support veterinary care for vaccinations and spaying and neutering services in underserved communities. His platform also includes support of the PACT Act, the Humane Cosmetics Act, and the WOOF Act.

Castro has also proposed creating a $2 billion National Wildlife Recovery Fund to protect, maintain, and strengthen wildlife populations. Castro’s proposal is the most comprehensive animal welfare plan released by any 2020 candidate to date.

Andrew Yang

As he has never held elected office, it is challenging to evaluate Andrew Yang’s position on animal protection. Yang has posted the broadest policy platform of any candidate for the Democratic Party’s nomination, with mixed results for animal protection advocates. The most troubling policy proposal frames the Endangered Species Act as overly restrictive.

Tulsi Gabbard

Tulsi Gabbard has been a consistent supporter of animal protection legislation since being elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2012.

In the current session, she is cosponsoring legislation to end the domestic shark fin trade, create a felony penalty for malicious animal cruelty, and crack down on puppy mills. This year she voted for the PAST Act, which would end horse soring abuses.

Previously, Gabbard has voted to crack down on animal fighting in the U.S. territories, and against stripping ESA protections from gray wolves in the Lower 48 states.

Kristen Gillibrand

Kristen Gillibrand has developed a strong animal protection record in the U.S. Senate.

Currently, Gillibrand is the lead Democratic sponsor of the Horseracing Integrity Act, which would create the Horseracing Anti-Doping and Medication Control Authority, to implement rules regarding the use of permitted and prohibited substances and develop anti-doping education, research, testing, and adjudication programs. She is also cosponsoring legislation to end horse soring abuses.

In previous sessions, Gillibrand has introduced legislation to strengthen oversight of antibiotic use in animals and led efforts to include an amendment in the Farm Bill to prohibit domestic slaughter, trade, and import/export of dogs and cats for human consumption. She also cosponsored legislation which would require furs to be labeled and prohibit the knowing slaughter of a horse for human consumption.

Jay Inslee

Jay Inslee has an impressive animal protection record from his time as a member of the U.S. House, and now as Governor of Washington.

As Governor, Inslee signed into law the strongest protections for egg-laying hens ever passed in any state legislature and  tethering restrictions which made it illegal for a person to leave a dog tethered for a reckless period of time without providing him or her with adequate access to food, water, and shelter.

While serving in the U.S. House of Representatives, Inslee introduced legislation to fund conservation programs that protect rare dog and cat species outside North America and Europe, such as jaguars, leopards, cheetahs, and African wild dogs. He also offered an amendment to an appropriations bill to bar federal funding that permits the import of sport-hunted polar bear trophies from Canada.

Inslee’s presidential platform includes creating cross-border conservation programs to protect threatened species. Washington currently ranks 4th on the Humane Society of the United States’ Humane State ranking.

Michael Bennet

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

In previous sessions, he has cosponsored legislation to end the shark fin trade, prohibit the interstate trade in primates for the exotic pet trade, and crack down on puppy mills.

Bill de Blasio

As Mayor of New York City, Bill de Blasio has signed multiple pieces of animal protection legislation into law.

Leading up to the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo, de Blasio penned a letter to the Governor of Tokyo, to support efforts to end the ivory trade in Japan. As Mayor, he signed legislation to ban the use of elephants, tigers, lions, bears, zebras, ostriches, and other wild animals in circuses, created sweeping reforms to the pet store industry, and established an Animal Cruelty Investigation Squad within the NYPD.

Closing Remarks

Animal protection advocates are fortunate to have so many sympathetic candidates seeking the Democratic Party’s nomination for President of the United States.

You'll hear more from the Humane Society Legislative Fund about the presidential race as we get closer to Election Day 2020. Keep checking the blog for updates and more information.

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

Wednesday, August 07, 2019

Nashville calls for an end to cruel horse soring

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

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

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Photo by the HSUS

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, July 25, 2019

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

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

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

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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

Monday, July 15, 2019

Members of Congress join rescue pups at U.S. Capitol to urge passage of bill ending malicious acts of cruelty like crushing animals and bestiality

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

It may be hard to believe, but some of the most malicious acts of animal cruelty—including crushing, burning, drowning, suffocating, and impaling animals and sexually exploiting them—are not felonies under federal law. Today, a bipartisan group of lawmakers gathered in front of the U.S. Capitol, along with several rescue dogs, to urge the House of Representatives to pass a bipartisan bill to ban these acts.

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photo courtesy of Corine Weiler

The Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture (PACT) Act, H.R. 724, sponsored by Reps. Ted Deutch, D-Fla., and Vern Buchanan, R-Fla, was introduced this year in January and it already enjoys the support of 270 members of Congress. In past years, similar versions of the bill have passed the full Senate twice before stalling in the House. Now, with new leadership in the House, we are hopeful that this important bill will finally become law.

The Humane Society of the United States has successfully pushed for all 50 states to declare malicious acts of animal cruelty as felonies. In 2010, we helped to secure passage of a federal law, the Animal Crush Video Prohibition Act, banning the trade in “crush videos”—obscene videos that show animals being subjected to terrible cruelty and suffering for the titillation of perverted viewers.

But there’s a serious gap in the law that needs to be addressed. While those who engage in such extreme cruelty can be prosecuted by the states where they are caught, there is no recourse for federal law enforcement and prosecutors unless an obscene video has been created and traded. The PACT Act will criminalize malicious acts of animal cruelty whenever they occur on federal property or affect interstate commerce, such as when animals are moved across state lines.

At the event today, Humane Society Legislative Fund and Humane Society of the United States staff was joined by Reps. Deutch and Buchanan and other cosponsors of the bill, including Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., who is co-chair of the Congressional Animal Protection Caucus. 

“Americans care about the welfare of animals,” Rep. Deutch said in his remarks. “We form deep relationships with our pets, and we are outraged by cases of animal abuse. I’m proud of the broad bipartisan support we’ve gained for the PACT Act. It’s time for Congress to pass this bill and make animal abuse a federal offense. I am eager to get this done and show our commitment to protecting our pets.”

“It is crazy to believe that animal cruelty is still not a federal crime,” Rep. Buchanan said. “Many sick individuals have been able to get away with dogfighting and animal cruelty. That will change with the PACT Act.”

Also among the speakers were Chris Schindler, vice president of Field Services at the Humane Rescue Alliance of Washington, D.C., and Sydney Helfand, a high school student who began a petition at Change.org to pass the PACT Act. Sydney’s petition has already gathered more than 650,000 signatures, illustrating the wide support this issue enjoys among members of the public, and the momentum behind passing this bill. Several celebrities, including Trisha Yearwood, are also joining us today and in coming days to call for the passage of the bill.

There is no reason for Congress to drag its feet on this issue any more—we need the PACT Act to become law so federal prosecutors and law enforcement officials have the tools they need to bring those responsible for cruelty to animals to justice, no matter where they commit their crimes.

Please contact your Members of Congress and ask them to cosponsor the PACT Act and urge them to vote “yes” when the bill comes to the House floor for a vote. You can also join us today by posting a photo with your beloved companion, using the hashtags #ProtectourPets and #PACTAct, to move Congress to act now.

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

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.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Spending bills move up in Congress, with progress for wild horses and burros, wolves and other wildlife

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

As the U.S. Congress takes up the business of funding federal programs, some good news for animals has emerged. Today, the House 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—all federal agencies whose activities and programs have enormous consequences for animals. The proposed measures include groundbreaking new protections for wild horses and burros, support for gray wolves, and increased funding to implement the Endangered Species Act.

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Photo courtesy iStock.com

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 $6 million for a pilot project to move the Bureau of Land Management’s Wild Horse and Burro Program away from calls to use lethal management methods like slaughter. The language for increased funding for a non-lethal pilot program included in the FY20 report is for scientifically based fertility control tools, which do not include sterilization. Consistent with a strategy proposed by the Humane Society Legislative Fund, the Humane Society of the United States and several other organizations, this initiative directs the BLM to work with key stakeholders to implement a non-lethal, science-based approach to wild horse and burro management on two to three herd management areas. This 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, 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. Notably, this legislation includes first-time language to close a loophole that could have allowed the U.S. Forest Service to kill healthy wild horses and burros and/or to send them to slaughter; the bill also reinstates a similar prohibition with respect to the BLM.

Maintaining ESA protections for gray wolves: Time and time again, when federal protections are removed for wolves, states allow their resident wolves to be trophy hunted and trapped, causing their populations to plummet. This is one of the main concerns with a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) proposed rule to remove ESA protections for gray wolves. The bill that covers the Interior Department directs the agency to carefully analyze state management plans to ensure adequate protections will be in place before it removes a species from the ESA list, and then establish a stringent monitoring system with rigorous enforcement provisions. The bill also rejects cuts in the administration’s proposed FY 2020 budget to the Wolf Livestock Demonstration Program, which provides grants for livestock producers willing to undertake non-lethal activities to reduce the miniscule risk of livestock losses from wolves.

Conservation of marine mammals: The bill covering the Commerce Department funds vital research and monitoring for the endangered North Atlantic right whale and southern resident killer whale. It proposes at least $4 million for the John H. Prescott Marine Mammal Rescue Assistance grant program, which funds the country’s marine mammal stranding response network. 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 $37 million more than Ecological Services received for FY 2019, and $49 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 almost $4 million from its FY 2019 level and by $9 million from the administration’s FY 2020 proposal.

Animal testing alternatives: The bill covering the Interior Department proposes $40 million more in funding above the president’s request for the EPA’s Computational Toxicology Program and Endocrine Disruptor Program, which develop replacements for traditional animal tests, as required in the 2016 reauthorization of the Toxic Substances Control Act.

We are excited about shepherding these proposals forward in Congress, and we look forward to your continued support for these and other animal protection measures in weeks to come.

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

Wednesday, May 08, 2019

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

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

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

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Photo courtesy of hkuchera/iStock.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Protect gray wolves now!

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

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