Commenting Guidelines

    • The HSLF invites comments—pro and con. Keep them clean. Keep them lively. Adhere to our guiding philosophy of non-violence. And please understand, this is not an open post. We publish samplers of comments to keep the conversation going. We correct misspellings and typos when we find them.

Pets & Cruelty

Tuesday, November 05, 2019

BREAKING NEWS: PACT Act passes U.S. Senate two weeks after clearing House; Bill now awaits Trump's signature

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

A long-awaited law that would make some of the most brutal acts of animal cruelty federal felonies is just one signature away from becoming reality.

Hslf-dog-PUPPERS-inset-270x250
AwaylGl, iStock.com

The U.S. Senate moments ago unanimously passed the Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture (PACT) Act, a bill that will make certain malicious animal cruelty within federal jurisdiction, including crushing, burning, drowning, suffocating and impaling live animals, and sexually exploiting them, a federal crime.

The passage of this bill is a well-deserved victory for us and our colleagues at the Humane Society of the United States’ Animal Protection Litigation division, who were instrumental in helping the sponsors draft this legislation and have led the fight to pass the PACT Act for almost a decade now. The bill is a no-brainer for most Americans and this is the third time that the full Senate has voted to pass it. The House—where it had stalled in previous years—unanimously passed identical legislation two weeks ago, this time spurred by new leadership.

The PACT Act would strengthen the federal animal crush video law that was enacted in 2010 at the urging of the Humane Society of the United States and Humane Society Legislative Fund. This law banned the creation, sale, and distribution of obscene videos that show live animals being crushed, burned, drowned, suffocated, impaled, or subjected to other forms of heinous cruelty, but it had a significant gap. It gave federal prosecutors no legal recourse to hold perpetrators accountable for extreme cruelty when the crime happened on federal property or affected interstate commerce, unless an obscene video had been produced.

Our Animal Protection Litigation team had the foresight to recognize this deficiency in the law and to put forward the recommendation that became the PACT Act. The bill will remove the loophole by prohibiting these acts, regardless of whether a video has been produced, when they occur on federal property, such as federal prisons and national parks or in interstate commerce, including moving animals across state lines or information exchanged on websites that allows animal exploitation such as bestiality to occur.

We applaud Sens. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., for their persistence and leadership on seeing this bill through. They, along with the House sponsors—Reps. Ted Deutch, D-Fla., Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., and former Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas—have been tremendous champions of this cause.

The bill now heads to President Trump’s desk and we hope he will quickly sign it into law. Please call the White House switchboard at 202-456-1414 and ask to leave a comment urging the president to sign this bill. History—and media reports—are replete with examples of criminals who start out by hurting animals and move on to hurting humans. The sooner we can bring those who commit unspeakable acts of violence against innocent animals to justice, the safer our world will be for everyone.

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

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

VICTORY: Court rejects challenge to federal cockfighting ban in Puerto Rico, Guam and other U.S. territories

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

A federal court has rejected an attempt to stop Congress from closing a loophole that allowed cockfighters to continue operating in U.S. territories, including Puerto Rico and Guam, despite the fact that cockfighting is a felony in all U.S. states.

Hslf-cockfighting-300x200
Photo by Heather Severt/the HSUS

Cockfighting organizations had challenged the ban, but a federal district court for the District of Puerto Rico ruled this week that Congress was well within its power to make amendments earlier this year to the Animal Welfare Act in order to clarify that an existing ban on cockfighting in all U.S. states applies equally to U.S. territories.

The court rejected all of the plaintiffs’ claims, including an argument that the law violates principles and rights protected under the U.S. Constitution, such as the right to free speech and association. "A live-bird fighting venture does not fall within any expressive or non-expressive protected conduct," the court said.

The court also declined to stay implementation of the law while the plaintiffs seek an appeal of this ruling, meaning the law will take effect as planned on December 20 this year.

Earlier this month, the Department of Justice had filed a brief strongly defending the expansion of the law.

Cockfighting is a despicable business that pits one animal against another for gambling and entertainment, and it is a felony in all U.S. states. But unless U.S. territories are included in the ban, we cannot truly wipe out these bloody spectacles entirely. Puerto Rico and Guam are a hub for American cockfighting, with enthusiasts openly raising birds and participating in fights. Cockfighting arenas are even located near airports to attract tourist dollars.

A ban on cockfighting can also protect communities from crimes associated with animal fighting, like illegal drug dealing and human violence, and from disease transmission risks, including bird flu and diseases that can decimate poultry flocks. Moreover, it’s also what a majority of Puerto Ricans want—a 2017 poll of 1,000 registered voters found that two out of three Puerto Ricans favor a ban on cockfighting.

For all of these reasons, and for the sake of the millions of birds who are now trapped in a gruesome industry that profits off their injury and death, we applaud the court’s ruling. These protections for roosters are long-overdue and well-deserved, and we are excited that very soon, they will be in effect in every U.S. jurisdiction, with no exceptions.

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

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

BREAKING NEWS: U.S. House passes PACT Act cracking down on extreme animal cruelty

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

The U.S. House has just voted overwhelmingly to crack down on some of the worst and most malicious acts of animal cruelty, including crushing, burning, drowning, suffocating, and impaling live animals and sexually exploiting them. The watershed vote takes us one step closer to a federal anti-cruelty statute that would allow the FBI and other federal law enforcement agencies to arrest and prosecute those who commit such unspeakable crimes against innocent animals.

Hslf-dog-PUPPERS-inset-270x250
AwaylGl, iStock.com

The vote is especially heartening because while the PACT Act has been introduced in previous Congresses—and it has unanimously passed the Senate twice—the former House Judiciary Committee chair had refused to move the bill despite the wide support it enjoyed among members. Now, with new leadership in the House pushing the bill to victory, we are hopeful that the Senate will soon act again on a companion version, and push this legislation over the finish line.

The PACT Act builds on the federal animal crush video law that was enacted in 2010 at the urging of the Humane Society Legislative Fund and the Humane Society of the United States. This law banned the creation, sale, and distribution of obscene videos that show live animals being crushed, burned, drowned, suffocated, impaled, or subjected to other forms of heinous cruelty. But the law has a gap that needs to be addressed: federal prosecutors have no recourse to hold perpetrators accountable unless an obscene video has been produced.

The PACT Act will remove that loophole by prohibiting these acts when they occur on federal property, such as federal prisons and national parks, regardless of whether a video has been produced. It would also allow federal authorities to crack down on animal cruelty that affects interstate or foreign commerce, including moving animals across state lines or information exchanged on websites that allows animal exploitation such as bestiality to occur.

This bill is supported by the National Sheriffs’ Association, the Fraternal Order of Police, the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, the National Children’s Advocacy Center, and Domestic Violence Intervention Services, Inc., and more than 100 law enforcement agencies across the country. In July, we hosted an event on Capitol Hill where we were joined by the bill’s sponsors, several rescue dogs and an extraordinary high school student from Potomac, Maryland, named Sydney Helfand, who started a petition at Change.org to pass the PACT Act.  Her petition gathered more than 650,000 signatures, illustrating the wide support this issue enjoys among members of the public, including young people, and the momentum behind passing this bill.

We congratulate Reps. Ted Deutch D-Fla., and Vern Buchanan R-Fla., who sponsored the PACT Act in the House, and the bill’s 297 cosponsors, for their vision and persistence in seeing this important bill through. In the coming weeks, we will be pushing with our collective might for the passage of the identical Senate companion bill, which was introduced by Sens. Pat Toomey R-Pa., and Richard Blumenthal D-Conn., and already has the bipartisan support of 38 Senators.   

We know by now that animal cruelty is an indicator of social pathology and those who commit crimes against humans often start out by hurting animals. It is a pattern of violence that is both common and well-documented, and it adds to the urgency of passing this commonsense law. Let’s make this the year we pass the PACT Act, so those who commit the worst crimes against animals do not go scot-free.

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.

Hslf-cockfighting-300x200
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.

Tuesday, August 20, 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:   

ISTOCK-479747398_476683Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders has been a steady and consistent supporter of animal protection during his time in Congress.

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

In previous sessions, Sanders cosponsored bills to curtail abusive puppy mills and animal fighting, to restrict the private trade in big cats and primates as exotic pets, and to ban barren battery cages for egg-laying hens. He supported strong enforcement of federal animal welfare laws, and opposed the weakening of the Endangered Species Act.

He helped to lead the effort in the 111th and 112th Congresses to end the use of chimpanzees in invasive research and retire them to sanctuaries.

Elizabeth Warren

Elizabeth Warren has continually supported animal protection legislation while in the U.S. Senate.

Currently, Warren is cosponsoring legislation to create a felony penalty for malicious animal cruelty and crack down on horse soring abuses.

In previous sessions, Warren has introduced legislation to strengthen oversight of antibiotic use in animals. She also co-filed an amendment to the Farm Bill to correct abuses by commodity checkoff programs such as those for beef, pork, and eggs.

Pete Buttigieg

Pete Buttigieg’s accelerated rise to the forefront of American politics has presented him with little opportunity to affect animal protection policy.

During his 2018 State of the City address, Buttigieg highlighted South Bend’s Animal Care & Control successes in doubling the number of pet adoptions and reducing the euthanasia rate for cats and dogs.

Pete has two rescue dogs, Truman and Buddy, who appear frequently on social media.

Beto O’Rourke

Beto O’Rourke supported critical animal protection legislation while in Congress, and was a member of the Congressional Animal Protection Caucus.

O’Rourke supported the full range of animal protection legislation through his votes and cosponsorships. This includes voting to protect wildlife in Alaska, crack down on animal fighting, and against stripping ESA protections from gray wolves in the Lower 48 states.

Amy Klobuchar

In the current session, Senator Amy Klobuchar is cosponsoring legislation to crack down on horse soring abuses.

In the past, she cosponsored legislation which would require furs to be labeled, enabling consumers to make informed decisions. She also voted against legislation which allowed egregiously cruel and unsporting hunting methods on more than 76 million acres of National Wildlife Refuges in Alaska.  

Tim Ryan

Congressman Tim Ryan has received scores ranging from 25 to 100 on the Humane Scorecard.

In the current session, Ryan is cosponsoring legislation to crack down on malicious animal cruelty, eliminate the shark fin trade, and prevent the export of American horses for slaughter overseas. This year he voted for the PAST Act, which would end horse soring abuses.

Previously, he voted to establish a recovery program for the Southern sea otter and to expand funding for marine turtle conservation.

John Delaney

Former Congressman John Delaney consistently received top marks on the Humane Scorecard, receiving an impressive score of “100” over each of his last 5 years in office.

While in the U.S. House, Delaney 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. During his last term in office, he cosponsored legislation to end horse soring abuses, crack down on malicious animal cruelty, and end the domestic shark fin trade.

Delaney was a member of the Congressional Animal Protection Caucus.

Marianne Williamson

Marianne Williamson is a member of the Humane Society of the United States’ Faith Advisory Council. In this capacity, she plays a leading role in reminding people to be responsible stewards and caretakers of God’s creation. She also serves as an ambassador for the HSUS in her community.

Williamson’s presidential platform contains promising animal protection language, stating, “As custodians of this planet, we are intended to care for the animals that share the land with us.”

Steve Bullock

Few animal protection bills make it to the desk of Steve Bullock, Montana’s governor since 2013.  Montana currently ranks 42nd in the Humane Society of the United States’ Humane State ranking.

 In 2015, Bullock vetoed a bill which would have restricted Montana’s ability to relocate bison within the state.

During a campaign stop in Iowa, Bullock said large animal confinements known as CAFOs are a state issue, not a federal one, not a promising animal welfare position for someone seeking the presidency.

Closing Remarks

Please remember to update your voter registration, and take other steps to ensure that  your voice is heard in our democracy. Tomorrow’s blog will cover the candidates featured in night two of the second presidential debate.

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

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.

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.

NCPUPPYMILL_0740_359091
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 01, 2019

Bill in Congress would require better veterinary care, other reforms for dogs in puppy mills

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

A quartet of bipartisan U.S. Representatives today introduced a bill that would strengthen baseline standards for commercial dog dealers regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture under the Animal Welfare Act.

NCPUPPYMILL_0740_359091
Photo by Meredith Lee/The HSUS

The Puppy Protection Act was introduced by Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., Charlie Crist, D-Fla., Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., and Guy Reschenthaler, R-Pa., and it builds on previous efforts by these lawmakers to crack down on puppy mills, like the WOOF Act introduced in February that would make it harder for USDA-licensed breeders and exhibitors with severe and multiple Animal Welfare Act (AWA) violations to get new licenses.

The Puppy Protection Act is necessary because current AWA regulations are vague and inadequate when it comes to the animals’ veterinary care and even their most basic needs, like food, water and socialization. Under current regulations, federally licensed breeders can be compliant with the AWA even while keeping dogs in small, cramped wire cages without sufficient preventive care, exercise or socialization. This often leads to sick, behaviorally-challenged puppies and heartbreak for the families who bring them home and love them.

Among other improvements, the Puppy Protection Act would:

  • Require annual hands-on veterinary examinations, core vaccinations, prompt treatment of illness or injury and preventive medications. Such protections now tend to be especially inadequate for mother and father dogs and their offspring at large-scale breeding operations. Current standards simply call for breeders to employ an attending veterinarian and maintain vaguely defined “adequate veterinary care.”
  • Set specific limits on breeding age and frequency, requiring breeders to screen for inheritable diseases, and prohibiting a dog from being bred unless they are free from such conditions. There are no rules on breeding practices now, so breeders can breed dogs relentlessly starting at a young age, including dogs with crippling congenital conditions that can be passed on to the puppies, like degenerative myelopathy, a disease of the spinal cord. And when a mother dog is too old to breed, the bill would compel the breeder to seek humane placement, rather than selling or destroying her.
  • Improve housing conditions for the dogs, which can be miserable and overcrowded and can cause sanitation problems, stress and disease in the animals. Many puppy mills stack dogs in tiny cages on top of one another, with wire flooring underfoot. Dogs’ and puppies’ legs or feet can become trapped in the wires, causing injury or keeping the animals from being able to reach food and water. The bill seeks to expand cage and exercise spaces and would require at least 30 minutes of socialization for the dogs each day, which would improve the animals’ health and behavioral development.
  • Require food be provided at least twice per day and access to water be provided continuously. The bill would prevent breeders from housing dogs without protections in freezing or sweltering temperatures.

Our staff witnesses the horrors that puppy mills wreak on innocent animals every day, through the hands-on rescue work we do and through the work of our Puppy Mills Campaign, including our research for the annualHorrible Hundred report, which identifies problem puppy mills in the United States. We come across many shocking examples of how current federal standards are failing to protect the animals adequately. For instance, during a June 2018 inspection of an Indiana breeder, a USDA inspector, after coming upon an extremely thin female breeding dog, simply allowed the licensee to obtain veterinary guidance over the phone, which is allowed under current regulations, instead of requiring a hands-on examination. Not only did this place the mother dog and her puppies at risk of an inaccurate diagnosis, but the issue wasn’t cited in a manner to prompt a follow-up inspection. In the end, the welfare of the dog and her puppies was left entirely to the discretion of the breeder who had failed to take adequate care of them in the first place.

This simply cannot go on. We applaud Reps. Fitzpatrick, Crist, McGovern and Reschenthaler for introducing the Puppy Protection Act, and we need your help to ensure it passes into law. Please contact your U.S. Representative today and ask them to cosponsor this important bill. This is commonsense legislation, and it is not too much to ask that dogs should never have to endure the bleak horror of spending their entire lives inside stacked wire cages with no companionship, no protection from harsh weather, and without adequate food and water.

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

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Breaking news: USDA proposes rule to crack down on worst puppy mills and roadside zoos; require strengthened veterinary care for dogs

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

The U.S. Department of Agriculture today proposed a new rule to close a loophole in the law that allows puppy breeders and roadside zoo exhibitors, whose licenses have been revoked for severe and multiple Animal Welfare Act violations, to continue doing business as usual by relicensing under a family member’s name. The rule also proposes enhanced veterinary care for animals held by dealers, exhibitors, and research facilities, including annual hands-on veterinary exams and vaccinations for all dogs, and other commonsense measures like requiring that all dogs and cats have regular access to fresh, clean water.

Hslf-dog-cage-inset-240x190
Photo by Shutterstock

The rule will also require businesses to disclose any animal cruelty convictions before they can obtain a license, and it will prevent those which keep exotic animals as pets from obtaining an exhibitor license to skirt local laws that restrict the private ownership of dangerous wild animals.

We’re pleased to see that the rule mirrors several (though not all) of the improvements we requested in a 2015 petition to the agency to improve standards of care for dogs, and in legal comments we submitted in 2018 regarding the licensing scheme. Under the new rule, licensees will also be required to renew their licenses every three years instead of every year. While we prefer annual renewal, the current process does not require licensees to show compliance with AWA rules before renewal. If the new rule goes into effect, breeders and other licensees will now have to pass an inspection before they can obtain a new license.

The Humane Society Legislative Fund and the Humane Society of the United States have long pressed for such reforms because of concerns about the manner in which the USDA has been regulating puppy mills and other AWA licensees. For instance, USDA citations, warnings and fines have plummeted dramatically over the last two years. We strongly urge that the USDA accurately and diligently document violations; otherwise, a rule change that prevents noncompliant dealers from renewing their licenses will be pointless.

Our review of the USDA’s recent inspection reports also shows that inspectors rarely ever cite dealers for “critical” or “direct” violations anymore—even when they find bleeding, injured or emaciated animals on the property. When violations are not correctly cited, there is no follow-up. USDA must provide follow-up to address suffering animals.

The proposed rule is similar to the bipartisan Welfare of Our Friends (WOOF) Act, H.R. 1002, introduced in the House earlier this year by U.S. Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., Charlie Crist, D-Fla., Glenn Thompson, R-Pa., and Jim McGovern, D-Mass.

Let the USDA know you support measures that will require professional, hands-on veterinary care for dogs, that you support preventing problem pet breeders and other kinds of animal dealers and exhibitors with poor animal care histories from getting a new license, and that you support firm and diligent enforcement of the AWA.

This rule has the potential to improve the lives of tens of thousands of animals now languishing in the squalor of puppy mills and roadside zoos. We can do great good for them by seeing this rule over the finish line together.

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.

Get Political
for Animals




Powered by TypePad