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In the News

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Breaking news: California leads the nation by banning fur sales, bobcat trophy hunting

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

Moments ago, Gov. Gavin Newsom made history by signing into law two landmark bills: one banning the sale and production of all new fur products in California, and another prohibiting the trophy hunting of bobcats in his state.

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Photo by Megan Lorenz/iStock.com

California, a trendsetter in animal welfare and in fashion, is the first state in the nation to pass a ban on the sales of fur, and we applaud Gov. Newsom and the state’s lawmakers for recognizing that California citizens do not want their state’s markets to contribute to the demand for fur products. The fur industry causes the suffering and death of more than 100 million animals worldwide each year, and animals on fur factory farms are forced to live in cramped, wire-bottom cages, deprived of the ability to engage in natural behaviors, before being cruelly killed by gassing or electrocution.

The law, which will go into effect in January 2023, is a monumental victory in the Humane Society of the United States' decades-long campaign to end this cruel and unnecessary trade. Hawaii and New York have introduced similar measures, and we’ll continue working hard with other cities and states to convince them to follow California’s lead.

The other bill Gov. Newsom signed today makes it unlawful to trophy hunt bobcats in the state, although the measure allows the lethal removal of any individual animal posing a danger to humans, endangered and threatened species, or livestock. Other states have passed temporary bans on trophy hunting bobcats after their numbers dropped too low because of hunting, trapping and habitat loss, but the California law goes above and beyond by taking a proactive step to end needless and cruel trophy hunting before the animals are pushed to the verge of extinction.

The law puts bobcats on a small list of protected species in the Golden State, alongside California’s other wildcat, the mountain lion. Bobcats at present face numerous other threats to their survival, like the recent deadly wildfires and urban sprawl. And each year, hundreds of these animals are killed by trophy hunters in California. In fact, over the past decade, trophy hunters have killed more than 10,000 bobcats in the state.

We are thankful to Gov. Newsom for signing these bills and to all the lawmakers who voted for them. Our special thanks to Assemblymember Sydney Kamlager-Dove, who authored the legislation on bobcats, as well as the bill’s co-authors, Assemblymembers Richard Bloom, Laura Friedman and Tasha Boerner Horvath, and Senators Ben Allen, Cathleen Galgiani and Anthony Portantino. We are also grateful to Assemblymember Laura Friedman, who introduced the bill on fur sales last December. It had many notable supporters among politicians and the fashion industry, including the California Democratic Party, Los Angeles City Mayor Eric Garcetti, the San Diego County Democratic Central Committee, the City of West Hollywood, InStyle magazine, Stella McCartney, DVF-Diane von Furstenberg, 3.1 Phillip Lim, Hugo Boss, Patagonia, H&M, GAP, J.Crew, Madewell, Des Kohan, Hiraeth and Inditex/Zara. Animal protection groups and citizens across the state mobilized in favor of the legislation.

Year after year, California has been the hands-down pace-setter among American states on a number of key animal-related matters, including passing the world’s strongest farm animal protection law, prohibiting the sale of puppy mill dogs in pet stores, banning foie gras, and ending the sales of animal tested cosmetics. For nine consecutive years, it has topped our Humane State report card, which ranks states based on a wide set of animal welfare policies. Today, by speaking out against fur and for bobcats, the Golden State has once again proven why it continues to be our nation’s undisputed leader on animal protection issues.

P.S.: As we celebrate these victories, our thoughts are with the people—and animals—of California who are affected by the wildfires. The HSUS's Animal Rescue Team is keeping an eye on the situation and will be standing by to assist as needed.

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

Tuesday, October 08, 2019

Breaking news: Department of Justice defends federal cockfighting ban for Puerto Rico, Guam

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

The federal government has filed a brief strongly defending a law that would expand the ban on cockfighting in the United States to Puerto Rico, Guam and other U.S. territories.

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Photo by Heather Severt/the HSUS

Cockfighters seeking to overturn the ban have challenged it in federal court, claiming it would cause them to lose “lawful business opportunities, loss of income and profits.” But the U.S. Department of Justice said in its brief this week that federal precedent is clear: Congress not only has the authority to ban animal fighting across all 50 states, but it can also apply it to U.S. territories.

The Farm Bill that passed Congress last year clarified a U.S. ban on animal fighting to include U.S. territories—a ban the Humane Society Legislative Fund fought hard to get into the bill.

Cockfighting is a despicable business that pits one animal against another for gambling and entertainment, and we are pleased to see the DOJ standing firm and defending the language that was enacted with overwhelming bipartisan support in the Farm Bill. The law goes into effect later this year, on December 20, and it couldn’t come sooner for the millions of birds trapped in this gruesome industry that profits off their injury and death.

Puerto Rico has been a refuge and a hub for American cockfighting, with enthusiasts raising birds and participating in these bloody spectacles, often quite openly, including at a major cockfighting arena located near the airport, with the aim of attracting tourists and the interstate flow of money connected with the fights. But support for cockfighting is almost non-existent within Puerto Rico, with the exception of a few outliers. Most of Puerto Rico’s citizens agree it’s time to end this animal cruelty. A 2017 poll of 1,000 registered voters in Puerto Rico, conducted by Remington Research on behalf of the HSUS, revealed that among residents with a definite view of cockfighting, there was a two-to-one majority favoring a ban on the practice.

Guam also has openly allowed horrific cockfighting to persist for many years. So, this new animal fighting ban will save thousands of animals across all the U.S. territories.

Putting an end to this bloodsport has been a big priority for us and the Humane Society of the United States. The HSUS has made massive investments to turn around the fortunes of animals in Puerto Rico, including Spayathon™ for Puerto Rico, equine wellness, and a shelter medicine program, and through their rescue and relief work there following the devastation of Hurricane Maria. Cockfighting undermines the very culture of kindness to animals we and others are helping to create there.

Roosters caught up in cockfighting enterprises suffer immense cruelty: they spend their lives tethered outside to small A-frame huts or barrels, vulnerable to harsh weather. The animals are often drugged to heighten their aggression and forced to keep fighting even after they’ve suffered grievous injuries such as broken bones, deep gashes, punctured lungs and pierced eyes. Birds often have metal weapons attached to their legs and typically suffer slow painful deaths. We cannot have such cruelty against some animals continue even as we work to protect others.

Animal fighting is often associated with other crimes such as illegal drug dealing and human violence and with disease transmission risks including bird flu and diseases that can decimate poultry flocks. Residents of the U.S. territories are well aware of the dangers this enterprise poses to their own safety.

Cockfighting and dogfighting have been felonies in all 50 U.S. states and federal law for many years now—laws HSLF and the HSUS were instrumental in bringing about. The protections for roosters and dogs in Puerto Rico, Guam and the other U.S. territories are well-deserved, and we stand ready to defend them with all of our might, even as we look forward to that day in December when cockfighting and dogfighting will no longer be allowed in any U.S. jurisdiction.

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

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Breaking news: 17 states sue Trump administration for weakening Endangered Species Act

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

Today, 17 U.S. states, the District of Columbia, and New York City filed a lawsuit to block the Trump administration from making harmful changes to how the Endangered Species Act, the bedrock law that protects endangered and threatened animal species and their habitats, is implemented by the federal government.

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Michelle Riley/The HSUS

The HSUS and a coalition of animal protection and conservation organizations represented by Earthjustice filed a similar lawsuit last month seeking to overturn the changes. We are pleased to see the attorneys general of 17 states—led by California, Massachusetts, and Maryland—along with those of two major cities—join their legal firepower with ours in what is shaping up to be one of the most important animal protection fights of the century.

“We’re coming out swinging to defend this consequential law—humankind and the species with whom we share this planet depend on it,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement announcing the lawsuit. “Now is the time to strengthen our planet’s biodiversity, not to destroy it."

This is encouraging news for those of us who have been raising the alarm over the changes, which were finalized last month, despite an outpouring of concern from citizens and groups like ours. More than 800,000 people spoke out in opposition when they were first proposed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service earlier this year. And soon after that the HSUS and other animal protection and environmental groups came together to file a lawsuit challenging this attempt to weaken core provisions of the Act, making it harder to grant and maintain protections for species facing extinction around the globe.

The new rules strip newly listed threatened species of vital safeguards, create hurdles to list species threatened by climate change, weaken protection of critical habitat, and make it easier for federal agencies to ignore the impact of government actions on listed species. They also direct regulators to assess economic impacts when making decisions about whether species should be listed, tipping the scales against animals who happen to live in areas targeted by business operations like mining, oil drilling, or development.

These changes are unacceptable because they have the potential to do irreparable harm to imperiled wildlife. With climate change threatening nearly one million plant and animal species, as a United Nations report pointed out earlier this year, it is more important than ever that we strengthen the Endangered Species Act, not destroy it. The future of our planet depends on it, and we are in good company as we fight to preserve it.

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

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Breaking news: EPA moves to end animal testing

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

In a landmark announcement, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today announced plans to end all animal testing on dogs, mice, rabbits, and other mammals for chemicals and pesticides in coming years. Instead, the agency will focus on investing in non-animal alternative technologies that are more reliable and do not cause animal suffering.

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Photo courtesy of iStock Photo

The agency plans to substantially reduce animal tests, including those it commissions in-house as well as those that it requires businesses to conduct, by 2025, and to end them altogether by 2035. The agency will also devote $4.25 million to the development of non-animal technologies (also known as new approach methodologies, or NAMs) at five universities. These approaches could include organ-on-a-chip technologies, cell cultures, computer modeling and other methods that are faster, cheaper and more predictive than time-consuming animal tests.

The agency’s decision to stop using results from mammal studies for approval of new chemicals will further spare even more animal lives. Companies seeking approval for a new chemical will be required to seek the consent of the EPA in order to carry out animal tests.

Today’s announcement follows the 2016 revision by Congress of the Toxic Substances Control Act—a law that regulates chemical safety in the United States. At that time, the Humane Society Legislative Fund and the Humane Society of the United States successfully advocated for key provisions which mandated that animal testing should be minimized and non-animal methods and strategies developed and prioritized. The likely outcome will be to spare hundreds of thousands of animals from having chemicals rubbed onto their skin, dropped in their eyes, or forced down their throats.  

We have also lobbied the U.S. Congress to support increased appropriations for the EPA’s Office of Research and Development and its Computational Toxicology Program, to explore the use of mathematical and computer models to help assess chemical hazards and risks to human health and the environment. In a bipartisan approach, members of Congress have consistently prioritized key funding for these non-animal technologies.

In recent years, the EPA has taken decisive steps to reduce the use of animal testing for both chemicals and pesticides, and we are grateful to EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler for his continued commitment in this regard. In 2016, the agency released a guidance document allowing pesticide manufacturers to waive the need for skin toxicity tests by accepting information already obtained through other tests, and published a letter to stakeholders expressing its goal of significantly reducing the use of animals in acute toxicity tests for pesticides. In 2018, the EPA released a policy encouraging the use of non-animal test methods for determining whether pesticides and chemicals cause skin allergies. As part of the updated TSCA, the EPA, in 2018, published a strategic plan to promote the development and implementation of alternative test methods. The overall effect has been one of steady, sweeping progress toward a long-cherished goal for animal protection advocates—the end of experiments that cause pain and misery to animals.

We are excited to see the EPA reinforce its commitment with today’s pathbreaking announcement, which heralds a new era for animals in laboratories. We urge other government agencies, industries, and stakeholders to join with the agency to end animal testing by investing in development and implementation of non-animal methods. The results will be improved human safety, more accurate and timely results, a better environment, and an end to animal suffering.

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

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.

Callie
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:

Elephant-blog-300x250
photo by iStock.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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