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Thursday, October 27, 2016

Fairs are not fair for tigers and dangerous wildlife

A dramatic video taken by a student on a field trip to the Pensacola Interstate Fair in Florida shows a trainer being attacked by a tiger during a performance, with children and adults watching in horror just a few feet away behind a fence. The tiger appears to knock the trainer down, begins to chew on her leg, and drags her across the cage. Another trainer enters the cage and frantically beats the tiger away with a rod.

It’s a much different image than the typical memories of cotton candy, carnival rides, and funnel cake conjured up by a trip to the county or state fair. Unfortunately, it’s part of a reckless and controversial trend emerging, with many fairs hosting exotic animal exhibits with dangerous wildlife on display for the public.

Tigers, bears, monkeys, and other exotic species are easily stressed by unfamiliar surroundings, loud noises, and crowds of people. They are often subjected to lengthy periods of transport and confinement in cramped cages and poorly ventilated trailers, which only exacerbates the problem. If brought into contact with the public, they are typically trained and controlled with physical abuse. When a wild animal rebels against a trainer’s physical dominance, the animal often pays a hefty price after the incident in order to remind them “who’s the boss.”

Many, if not most, wild animal exhibitors who frequent state and county fairs have histories of poor animal care, as well as violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act such as failure to provide animals with veterinary care, proper food or shelter, and poor animal handling practices that endanger the public and the animals. Conditions are no better during the off-season when animals may be warehoused for months in undersized transport cages.

Such displays are also detrimental to conservation efforts. Studies confirm that seeing humans interact with endangered animals leads people to falsely believe that these animals are not threatened or endangered in the wild. In addition, when people watch trainers handle and physically interact with wild animals they often want to do so themselves an impulse increasingly catered to by shady exhibitors who profit by charging members of the public to handle and pose with tiger, lion, and bear cubs as well as primates. It’s a practice that is cruel for the animals, can end badly for the people involved, and is all too often featured at fairs. Consider the following dangerous incidents with exhibitions that allowed the public to handle these animals:

  • A 5-year-old boy suffered facial cuts that required plastic surgery after being attacked by a 4-month-old tiger cub at a photo booth at the state fair in North Dakota.
  • A 13-year-old girl was rushed to the emergency room after being bitten on the hand by a tiger during a photo session at the Marshfield Fair in Massachusetts. The exhibitor fled the state before authorities could quarantine the tiger. Animal control officials reported several other bites associated with the fair’s tiger exhibit.
  • A monkey performing at the Mississippi Valley Fair in Iowa went berserk and jumped on a woman, hitting her head and biting her as she posed for a photograph. The woman filed a lawsuit against the fair and the animal exhibitor.
  •  A man was bitten while having his photo taken with a 2-month-old lion cub at the Lake County Fair in Illinois.
  • A tiger cub bit a man on the arm during a photo op at the New Mexico State Fair, resulting in a lawsuit.

How many incidents are needed before we stop allowing commercial profiteers and careless carnies to put entire communities at risk?

The Humane Society of the United States and other groups petitioned the U.S. Department of Agriculture to issue revised regulations that prohibit public contact and close encounters with big cats, bears, and primates, regardless of the age of the animals. Multiple HSUS undercover investigations of public handling operations using tiger cubs revealed the cubs were denied veterinary care, fed a nutritionally deficient diet, deprived of proper rest, subjected to physical abuse, and in some cases suffered premature death.

Earlier this year, the USDA took an important step toward cracking down on the abuse of big cat cubs by traveling zoos and roadside menageries. The agency issued guidance making clear that exhibitors violate the Animal Welfare Act by allowing members of the public to handle or feed infant exotic cats like tigers, lions, cheetahs, jaguars, or leopards. While there is still much more work to be done to fully address the concern, this is a significant step forward.

We are calling on USDA to completely prohibit public contact with big cats, bears, and primates of any age. It’s time for the current administration, or the next one, to take action. In the meantime, please contact your county or state fairs if you see exotic animal exhibits featured as entertainment, and urge them to establish a policy against allowing dangerous wild animal displays at future fairs—and not to play Russian roulette with animal welfare and public safety.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Are your lawmakers making the grade?

One of the core objectives we have at the HSLF is to make it simple and efficient for voters to determine how federal lawmakers have sided on crucial animal protection legislation across a range of issues. With the end of the 114th Congress approaching, HSLF has posted a preview version of the 2016 Humane Scorecard, so you can see how your U.S. senators and U.S. representative have performed so far in this Congress on animal protection issues. If they’ve done well, please thank them; if they have room for improvement, please let them know you’re paying attention, and that there is still time for them to do better before the final scorecard is wrapped up at the end of the year. You can also share information with your family and friends about how their elected officials have voted in relation to animal protection. 

iStock Photo

In this preliminary report, we hold lawmakers accountable on key votes including, on the positive side, to reduce or eliminate the testing of tens of thousands of chemicals on animals, and on the negative side, to substantially weaken the Endangered Species Act and strip federal protections from wolves and other imperiled species, to allow the imports of sport-hunted polar bear trophies and the most extreme methods of trophy hunting and trapping wild animals, and to prevent agencies from issuing or updating regulations that protect animals. We also evaluate their support for adequate funding to enforce federal animal welfare laws and their co-sponsorship of priority bills to protect pets, horses, animals in laboratory experiments, and more. We provide extra credit for legislators who took the lead on one or more animal protection issues.

Already in the few weeks since we notified offices about which bills would count on the scorecard, we’ve seen a jump in the co-sponsor numbers for these key bills, and with your help we can keep the momentum going. A bill to protect survivors of domestic violence and their pets has 209 co-sponsors in the House and 32 in the Senate; a bill to prevent animal cruelty and torture on federal property and in interstate commerce has 244 co-sponsors in the House and 36 in the Senate; the bill to crack down on the cruel practice of horse soring has 266 co-sponsors in the House and 50 in the Senate; the horse slaughter bill has 198 co-sponsors in the House and 31 in the Senate; and the bill to phase out cosmetic testing on live animals has 162 co-sponsors in the House.

Building the number of co-sponsors on a bill is an important way to show that there is a critical mass of bipartisan support for the policy, warranting floor consideration, and to help push the legislation over the finish line.

Please check the scorecard charts and call your two U.S. senators and your U.S. representative today. Thank each of them for their support of the bills that they’re already co-sponsoring and urge them to join on any of the animal protection bills being counted on the 2016 Humane Scorecard that they’re not yet co-sponsoring. This preview will be updated online periodically throughout the fall, and legislators will have until the end of the 114th Congress to receive credit on the final version of our 2016 Humane Scorecard that will be printed in January. And please do share the scorecard with others, and let them know about our important work together.

You can look up your federal legislators here, and then call the congressional switchboard at (202) 224-3121 to be connected to each of your legislators. Here are the animal protection bills that will count on the scorecard and we hope will gather additional co-sponsors before year’s end:


Pets and Domestic Violence — S. 1559 and H.R. 1258, the Pet and Women Safety (PAWS) Act. Introduced by Sens. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., and Gary Peters, D-Mich., and Reps. Katherine Clarke, D-Mass., and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., this bill will make it harder for abusers to prey on their battered partners and their pets by allowing pets to be protected across state lines when restraining orders are issued in domestic violence and stalking cases; and authorizing grant money so that domestic violence shelters can accommodate pets (currently, only 3 percent of these shelters allow pets) or help arrange for pet shelter. This legislation will help an estimated one-third of domestic violence survivors escape from an abusive partner—these are people who delay their decision to leave a violent situation out of fear for their pets’ safety. Violence toward humans is closely related to animal cruelty; up to 84 percent of women entering domestic violence shelters reported that their partners abused or killed their family pet.

Animal Cruelty — S. 1831 and H.R. 2293, the Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture (PACT) Act. Introduced by Sens. Patrick Toomey, R-Pa., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Reps. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, Ted Deutch, D-Fla., Tom Marino, R-Pa., and Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., this bill will strengthen the federal animal crush video law enacted in 2010 (which banned the creation, sale, and distribution of obscene videos that show the intentional crushing, burning, drowning, suffocating, or impaling of live animals) to prohibit those same extreme acts of animal cruelty when they occur in interstate or foreign commerce, regardless of whether a video is produced. All 50 states have felony penalties for malicious cruelty to animals. This legislation would complement the states’ anti-cruelty laws in the same way that the federal animal fighting statute complements state animal fighting laws, providing an additional tool to be employed when extreme animal cruelty occurs on federal property or otherwise in interstate commerce (e.g., in the puppy mill trade or wildlife trafficking).

Jennifer Kunz/The HSUS

Horse Soring — S. 1121 and H.R. 3268, the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act. Introduced by Sens. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., and Mark Warner, D-Va., and Reps. Ted Yoho, R-Fla., Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., Mike Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., David Jolly, R-Fla., and Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., this bill will amend existing federal law to better crack down on the cruel practice of “soring,” in which unscrupulous trainers deliberately inflict pain on the hooves and legs of Tennessee walking horses and certain other breeds with caustic chemicals, heavy chains, sharp objects, and other gruesome techniques to force them to perform an unnaturally high-stepping gait and gain unfair competitive advantage at horse shows. This legislation would amend the Horse Protection Act of 1970 to end the failed system of industry self-policing, ban the use of devices associated with soring, strengthen penalties, and make illegal the actual soring of a horseall without any additional taxpayer burden.

Horse Slaughter — S. 1214 and H.R. 1942, the Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act. Introduced by Sens. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Reps. Frank Guinta, R-N.H., Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., and Michelle Lujan Grisham, D-N.M., this bill would protect horses and consumers by prohibiting the transport and export of U.S. horses to slaughter for human consumption. American horses are not raised for food and are routinely given numerous drugs over their lifetimes that can be toxic to humans if ingested. Kill buyers round up horses from random sources, and these companion animals or working animals are shipped for long distances and are often seriously injured or killed in transit. At the slaughter plant, the methods used to kill horses rarely result in quick, painless deaths. This predatory industry doesn’t “euthanize” old, sick horses. Young and healthy horses are purchased, often by buyers misrepresenting their intentions, and killed to sell the meat to Europe and Japan.


Animal Testing for Cosmetics—H.R. 2858, the Humane Cosmetics Act. Introduced by Reps. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., Don Beyer, D-Va., Joe Heck, R-Nev., and Tony Cárdenas, D-Calif., this bill would phase out the testing of cosmetics on live animals and the sale of newly animal-tested cosmetics in the U.S. While most manufacturers no longer test finished products on animals, some animal tests are still conducted on rabbits, guinea pigs, rats, and mice for assessing ingredients. Animals have substances forced down their throats, dripped in their eyes, or smeared onto their skin, usually without pain relief. These tests are not predictive of the human experience so their results are unreliable for consumer safety. There are many alternative methods to ensure that products are safe for human use. More than 1.7 billion consumers live in countries that have banned cosmetics testing on animals and the sale of cosmetics tested on animals. H.R. 2858 will help the U.S. remain competitive in the global market and create a key incentive for cosmetics to be tested here with cutting-edge technologies that are more humane, faster to perform, and less costly to industry than animal testing.

Votes matter. Records matter. Until animal advocates weight these records when they go to the polling stations or fill-out their mail ballots, we won’t see the gains we all desperately want. Use this incredible tool to inform your voting behavior. It just takes a minute to find your two U.S. senators and your U.S. representative and see how they’ve performed on the issues that have emerged in 2015 and 2016.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Find humane candidates in your area with our new election resource

At the Humane Society Legislative Fund, we know that solving many of the systemic problems facing animals today depends on passing animal protection legislation at the federal level. But, in order to do that, it is critical that we elect humane-minded candidates to office. Without legislative allies and advocates, it will be ever harder to secure a square deal for companion animals, phase out the use of animals in research, testing, and education, improve welfare standards for farm animals, expand protections for wildlife, put a stop to animal cruelty, end the slaughter of horses for human consumption overseas, or crack down on the rampant and abusive practice of horse “soring”—to name a few worthwhile goals we all share.

Mark Bacon/Alamy

With the general election less than a month away, now is the time to get political for animals. That’s why HSLF is today launching a new endorsement site, featuring our list of candidates for office that we favor based solely on their stands and records on animal protection issues. This is the first such resource of its kind for supporters of animal protection nationwide, and on the site you’ll be able to easily search by state or office to see the names of individuals HSLF has endorsed.

As a friend of HSLF, you already know about our annual Humane Scorecard, which rates legislators based on their records in office. Our endorsement site is intended to serve as an easy and informative supplemental resource to find out more about the candidates running to represent you in Congress. Whether they’re longtime legislators or individuals new to politics, our site features candidate-specific information on the issue you care most about: animal protection.

In addition to the endorsements in congressional races around the country, HSLF has endorsed Hillary Clinton for President, and launched a campaign informing voters that a Trump administration could be one of the worst ever for animals.

This is a particularly critical election for animals, so it’s important that we turn out to the polls to support those who have expressed a willingness to join in the fight. Right now, we have a number of important bills pending in Congress, including:

The bills that don’t get over the finish line in the final days of Congress will have to be reintroduced next year—and we need to build our ranks of humane advocates and champions who will fight for these reforms. So, please, take a look at our site and find out which humane candidate is running in your area. If you haven’t registered to vote, you can easily do so by going here. And, in case you missed it, read our recently-issued endorsement for the presidential race.  

Remember, you hold the power to make sure humane candidates get into Congress and stay there. To that end, we hope you’ll find our new site helpful, and share it with friends and family who care about animal protection.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Animal welfare on the ballot in November

When voters go to the polls this November, they won’t only be making critical decisions about who represents them in the White House, Congress and state and local offices. In a number of states, the people will vote on the humane treatment of animals—deciding whether to adopt policies on factory farming, wildlife trafficking, and other animal protection issues.

Photo courtesy of Greg Latza/For The HSUS

Since the early 1990s, The Humane Society of the United States and allied organizations have been involved in about 50 statewide ballot contests, and voters have sided with animals about 70 percent of the time. They’ve banned cockfighting in three of the last states where it remained legal (Arizona, Missouri, and Oklahoma), set humane treatment standards for dogs in the largest puppy mill state (Missouri), stopped extreme confinement of animals on factory farms (Arizona, California, and Florida), and adopted new policies to restrict greyhound racing; horse slaughter; body-gripping traps and poisons; trophy hunting of bears, cougars, and wolves, and more. When politicians in the state legislatures have been held captive by special interests—such as big agribusiness, the trophy hunting lobby, or even organized cockfighting groups—animal advocates have petitioned to put these questions directly to the people.

This year in Massachusetts, voters will decide on Question 3, which would phase out the extreme confinement of veal calves, breeding pigs, and egg-laying hens in small crates and cages where they are virtually immobilized for their entire lives, and will remove inhumane and unsafe products from the Massachusetts marketplace. Backed by the MSPCA, Animal Rescue League of Boston, Zoo New England, and hundreds of Massachusetts veterinarians and family farmers, more than 170,000 Massachusetts voters signed petitions to place Question 3 on the ballot. Question 3 adds momentum to what’s already occurring in the marketplace, with McDonald’s, Walmart and 200 other major food retail brands pledging to change their procurement practices and source only cage-free eggs and meats.

In Oregon, voters will weigh in on Measure 100, which will help save endangered sea turtles, elephants, rhinos and other wild animals threatened with cruel poaching and extinction. Every day close to 100 elephants are brutally killed in Africa, their tusks hacked off to supply the black market for ivory trinkets. Poachers poison watering holes with cyanide, killing hundreds of elephants at once. Organized criminal gangs and armed rebels use military weapons to kill wildlife for the multi-billion dollar illegal wildlife trade. Measure 100 will ensure that Oregon does not provide a market for endangered species products resulting from wildlife poaching and trafficking. If passed, Oregon will join California, Washington, Hawaii, and other states in shutting down local markets for those who seek to profit from this destructive wildlife trade. 

In Oklahoma, family farmers and animal advocates are opposing State Question 777, a measure referred to the ballot by politicians to amend the state constitution with a so-called “right to farm.” It would protect corporate interests and foreign-owned big agribusiness at the expense of Oklahoma’s family farmers, land, and animals. The measure is so broadly worded that it could prevent future restrictions on any “agricultural” practice, including puppy mills, horse slaughter, and raising gamefowl for cockfighting. Even the president of the Oklahoma Farm Bureau said the language is flawed, and “I wish that language weren’t in there.”

Those aren’t the only states where voters will see ballot issues related to animals. Californians will vote on Proposition 67, to protect the state’s ban on plastic grocery bags, which wash into our rivers, lakes, streams, and ocean, where they are ingested by or entangle sea turtles, otters, seals, fish, and birds. Some ocean animals mistake bags for food, fill their stomachs with plastics, and die of starvation. Montanans will vote on I-777, which would restrict the use of cruel traps and snares on public lands. In Colorado, Amendment 71 would make it more difficult for citizens to have a say on future constitutional ballot measures, including those dealing with animal protection. The HSUS and HSLF favor the California and Montana measures, but strongly opposes the Colorado measure as an attack on citizen voting.

When you enter the voting booth or send in your mail ballot this November, make sure you don’t stop after the candidate races. Continue down the ballot and review the issues at stake, and you could have a role in promoting the humane treatment of animals and protecting these creatures from cruelty and suffering, and preserving your rights to participate in democratic decision-making in future elections.

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

A Trump presidency would be a threat to animals everywhere

The Humane Society Legislative Fund today announces its endorsement of Hillary Clinton for President, and the launch of a new ad campaign to inform voters that a Donald Trump presidency would be a threat to animals everywhere. In our view, Trump represents the greatest threat ever to federal policy-making and implementation of animal protection laws, and we are taking the unusual step of wading actively into a presidential campaign.


HSLF has members who are Democrats, Republicans, and Independents, and supports lawmakers and candidates from all over the political spectrum. We evaluate candidates based on a single, non-partisan criterion—their support for animal protection—and do not default to one party or the other.

The next president will have an enormous impact over animal protection in this country for the next four to eight years, and the stakes are high with policy decisions overseen by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, National Institutes of Health, and other executive agencies. When you consider the potential for advancing animal welfare reforms at the federal level, or rolling back the recent gains and rulemaking actions, there could not be a greater contrast among the White House hopefuls. One ticket has a clear, compelling record of support for animal protection, while the other has assembled a team of advisors and financial supporters tied in with trophy hunting, puppy mills, factory farming, horse slaughter, and other abusive industries. The names that Trump’s campaign has floated for engagement on Interior and Agriculture department issues are a “who’s who” of zealous anti-animal welfare activists.

We’ve all seen the gruesome photographs of Trump’s adult sons documenting their trophy kills, which include a leopard, Cape buffalo, waterbuck, and other exotic creatures. Donald Jr. even holds up the tail of an African elephant he’s apparently shot. Both African elephants and leopards are listed as “threatened” with extinction under the provisions of the U.S. Endangered Species Act. That means that the Trump sons use their fortunes and vacation time to travel the world amassing the heads and hides of the rarest and most majestic animals on earth—a pastime more on par with the type of killing done by Walter Palmer (the wealthy dentist who shot Cecil the lion) than it is with rank-and-file sportsmen or conservationists. 

Troublingly, Donald Jr. has even been floated as a possible Interior Secretary. Both sons at the very least would be Trump’s top advisors and strategists on trophy hunting issues. The risk of having a globe-trotting trophy hunter at or near the helm at Interior, or having the ear of the President, should be a terrifying prospect for any animal advocate. The administration is responsible not only for policies involving hundreds of millions of acres of federal lands, but also wildlife law enforcement, international treaties on trade and conservation, and import policies for wild animal parts and trophies.

It’s not just family members floated for cabinet posts. Politico reported that oil tycoon Forrest Lucas is a “front-runner” to be Interior Secretary, in addition to serving as a member of Trump’s agriculture advisory committee. Lucas is the money man behind the so-called Protect the Harvest, a front group devoted to fighting animal welfare organizations at every turn, on everything. A peevish advocate for trophy hunting, puppy mills, and big agribusiness, Lucas has never met a case of animal exploitation he wouldn’t defend. He personally financed an attack on Proposition B in Missouri—one of the animal welfare movement’s most important ballot measures, designed to impose humane breeding standards for dogs and crack down on puppy mills.

Lucas and his group also opposed efforts to establish felony-level penalties for malicious cruelty against dogs, cats, and horses; promote the spaying and neutering of pets; and provide adequate shelter for dogs to protect them from the elements. He formed a super PAC specifically to defeat animal advocates.

Recent reports suggest that Iowa factory farming mogul Bruce Rastetter may be Trump’s leading candidate for Secretary of Agriculture. Rastetter has made a fortune off the kind of industrial agricultural practices that family farmers and animal advocates have fought for decades, and was connected to Trump through New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who vetoed a state ban on cruel pig gestation crates in a sop to Iowa’s pork industry. Considering Rastetter’s brother is CEO of a company that builds gestation crates, we have good reason to be concerned about the potential for crony capitalist dealings in a Trump administration.

Other agriculture advisors to Trump include: Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad and former Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman, both of whom signed onto the federal lawsuit to invalidate California’s law restricting the sale of eggs from barren battery cages; former Iowa state Rep. Annette Sweeney, who along with Branstad ushered the nation’s first “ag-gag” bill into law to punish whistleblowers and shield agribusiness from public scrutiny; Texas state agriculture commissioner Sid Miller, who called Meatless Mondays “treasonous”;  Oklahoma state Sen. Eddie Fields, author of the bill overturning the state’s 50-year ban on horse slaughter for human consumption; Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin, who signed that horse slaughter bill into law; and Missouri state Sen. Brian Munzlinger, who sponsored bills to weaken the voter-approved standards for puppy mills and deregulate canned hunts. Trump is surrounding himself with the leading anti-animal advocates in the United States, and at this stage, it appears many of them will not only have a front row seat in the Trump administration, but they’ll be at the steering wheel as a Trump administration examines food and agriculture and wildlife policy issues.  

While Trump has advocates for trophy hunting, puppy mills, factory farming, and horse slaughter on his side, Hillary Clinton has a strong record of taking a stand against many of these issues. She published an animal welfare statement on her campaign website, noting that “[t]he way our society treats animals is a reflection of our humanity.” Clinton highlights the humane issues she plans to tackle as President, as well as her strong record on animal protection in the U.S. Senate and as Secretary of State. She pledges to crack down on abuses such as wildlife trafficking, puppy mills, and horse slaughter, and to support a federal anti-cruelty statute and more humane treatment of farm animals.

During her eight years in the U.S. Senate, Clinton was a strong and consistent supporter of animal protection policies, earning a 100 percent score on the Humane Scorecard in the 108th Congress, a perfect 100+ score in the 109th, and an 83 in the 110th. She co-sponsored legislation dealing with horse slaughter and animal fighting, as well as bills to stop the processing of “downer” livestock and crack down on abusive puppy mills where dogs are treated like production machines. She led efforts in the 108th and 109th Congresses to stop the overuse of antibiotics in farm animals, which allow them to be crammed into overcrowded, stressful, and unsanitary factory farms. As a Senator, Clinton also signed letters requesting more funds for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to step up enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act, the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, and the federal animal fighting law. During the 2008 campaign, she voiced concern over the slaughter of sick and injured cows whose meat was channeled into the national school lunch program. As Secretary of State, Clinton led international efforts to crack down on wildlife trafficking.

She continued her leadership on animal protection later through the Clinton Foundation, and helped to launch a major campaign to fight the illegal ivory trade and poaching of elephants. It’s telling that the Clintons saw animal protection as part of the larger landscape for charitable work and important enough to be included among their philanthropy. Trump is a billionaire but does not seem to have much in the way of charitable instincts at all. He says he’s given millions to charity, but the Washington Post reported that Trump made only one charitable gift between 2008 and May 2016, totaling less than $10,000; and used funds from the Donald J. Trump Foundation to buy a six-foot-tall portrait of himself and to settle lawsuits involving his for-profit business. By contrast, Bill and Hillary Clinton personally gave just under $15 million during roughly that same period (2007 to 2014), or around 10% of their total income. That doesn’t account for the Clinton Foundation, which has raised over $2 billion for global health and wellness, economic development and climate change reduction efforts (and more) around the world. 

While the Clintons have owned pets much of their adult lives, it appears that Donald Trump never has. If elected, Trump would be the first president since Harry Truman without a pet in the White House. It’s hardly unusual for pets in our lives to humanize us, and to bring into sharper focus the importance of national policies to help animals. The Clintons seem to have long felt the pull of animals, while the Trumps have not, with two Trump sons being better known for killing animals as a recreational pursuit. Donald Trump has even called for the Food and Drug Administration to stop regulating pet food—not long after thousands of dogs and cats were sickened or died from consuming contaminated pet food and treats. It’s hard to imagine that he empathizes with the two-thirds of American households who have beloved pets as part of their families.

When HSLF evaluates the presidential contenders, it’s important to look at their running mates, too. U.S. Senator Tim Kaine is currently a co-sponsor of the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act to strengthen the federal law against the “soring” of show horses—using caustic chemicals and other painful substances to injure the horses’ hooves and legs to induce a high-stepping gait. When he previously served as Governor of Virginia, he was attentive to animal issues, and signed legislation strengthening laws against animal fighting, restricting the operation of puppy mills, requiring a bittering agent in antifreeze to prevent poisoning of animals, and maintaining a ban on the use of gas chambers for animal euthanasia.

When Mike Pence served in Congress from 2001 to 2013, he had more of a mixed record on animal protection, with scores on the HSLF Humane Scorecard ranging from 0 to 56. He supported legislation on animal fighting, crush videos, pets in disasters, service dogs for veterans, and horse slaughter, but opposed animal welfare measures on primates as exotic pets, stopping the slaughter of downer livestock, importing sport-hunted polar bear trophies, killing Yellowstone bison, protecting wild horses from slaughter, prohibiting bear baiting on federal lands, and conserving rare cats and canids, sea otters, marine turtles, and cranes. As governor of Indiana, he signed a pro-animal bill requiring animal shelters to spay or neuter dogs and cats before adoption. His addition to the ticket does little to assuage concerns about whether or not a Trump administration would be supportive of animal-friendly policy initiatives.

Americans who care about protecting wildlife, combating large-scale cruelties like animal fighting and puppy mills, securing humane treatment of animals in agriculture, and addressing other challenges that face animals in our nation, must become active over the next few weeks to elect a president who shares our values. Please sign our pledge, and spread the word that voters who care about the humane treatment of animals—whether they are Democrats, Republicans, or Independents—should vote for Hillary Clinton for President.

HSLF is a nonpartisan organization that evaluates candidates based only on a single criterion: where they stand on animal welfare. HSLF does not judge candidates based on party affiliation or any other issue.

Paid for by Humane Society Legislative Fund and not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee. HSLF, 1255 23rd Street, NW, Suite 455, Washington, DC 20037.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The killing of coyotes: From violent video to the federal war on wildlife

With the trial scheduled to begin today, a last-minute plea agreement was reached in the case against a Michigan hound hunter in connection with the gruesome killing of a coyote captured in a YouTube video. A second defendant, facing a felony charge of torturing an animal and misdemeanors for animal cruelty and failure to kill wounded game, was found not guilty a few months ago.

Photo courtesy of Allison Gibson/For The HSUS

The outcome of this case should be disappointing to anyone who stomached the tough stuff on these sickening snuff films, which showed decidedly dark behavior about as far removed from responsible hunting as you can get. These films were disquieting portrayals of dead-eyed apathy to the suffering of living beings.

In the first video, a coyote, injured and prostrate after suffering several gunshot wounds, lies in the snow as a narrator records the animal’s suffering and describes his intent to “let [the dogs] finish him off.” The barking and braying of hounds can be heard in the distance, and when the dogs finally reach the wounded creature, the resulting “fight” is more brutal, deflating, and outright soul-crushing than you can imagine. The cries of the wounded creature as he weakly attempts to defend himself only get shriller, more desperate and high-pitched until finally it ends, the animal’s life essence bleeding out and turning the snow to crimson. A 12-year-old child looks on as the dogs tear the creature to shreds—as if it were some sort of enjoyable or educational experience.

The second video depicts another coyote lying in the road, having been run down and hit intentionally by the truck from which the videographer films the animal’s agonizing final moments. For several minutes, the animal is left to the realities of his pain and imminent death, before he is eventually shot with a pistol from the vehicle.

In the hounding case, a jury found the cruelty statute applicable only to domesticated companion animals like dogs and cats, and not to wild animals in a hunting situation. Meanwhile, the hunter in the road killing case pled guilty to reckless use of a firearm, despite the appalling sequence of conduct that involved intentionally running down a coyote with a car.

The hunting ethic calls for a clean and quick kill, and these two individuals were seeking just the opposite—to prolong the animals’ agony for sadistic sport. Any responsible hunter or decent-minded person should call for the state and federal laws to be strengthened, to clearly punish the malicious torture of a defenseless animal.

While there are individual acts of cruelty to coyotes that go beyond the pale, there are also more concerted and normalized campaigns against these creatures. For 30 years, the federal government waged war on coyotes, killing millions of them in a scorched-earth campaign to eliminate unwanted animals from the United States. The result—aside from coyotes’ biological adaptation and the spread of ever more of them throughout the country—was a national hardening of conscience against them.

As writer and historian Dan Flores describes in the recent book, “Coyote America: A Natural and Supernatural History,” they became scapegoats and targets of an irrational animus, despite field observations from revered biologists like Adolph Murie who documented them as intelligent animals capable of a wide range of emotions. As Flores wrote this month in a New York Times op-ed, “No other wild animal in American history has suffered the kind of deliberate, and casual, persecution we have rained down on coyotes.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s century-old “Wildlife Services” program is a little known, taxpayer-funded agency that principally focuses on the outdated and inefficient model of lethal control when it comes to human-wildlife conflict. And the killing it authorizes and carries out routinely utilizes shockingly inhumane and indiscriminate methods, such as toxic poisons, steel-jawed leghold traps, and aerial gunning to kill tens of thousands of coyotes each year. These animals are poisoned, gassed, shot from the ground and from aircraft, and killed in painful traps and snares to benefit private ranchers grazing their livestock on public lands.

There is a legitimate case to be made for a federal agency that helps to solve wildlife conflicts and provides training and research on best practices with an emphasis on innovation and non-lethal solutions. But Wildlife Services in its current form is a relic of the past. It exterminates wildlife as a government subsidy for private ranchers and other special interests, using inhumane and ineffective methods, while the U.S. taxpayers foot a large share of the bill. 

We have a right to expect better from our government, especially when humane alternatives are on the rise. The Obama administration should ban the most inhumane and indiscriminate methods of killing coyotes, and bring much-needed reform to this outdated and wasteful government program. It would be an amazing capstone to a presidency that has already produced substantial benefits and protections to animals.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Trump's ag A-team a royal flush of animal protection haters

We already knew that Donald Trump would be bad news for wildlife—he’s got two sons who travel the globe to slay rare wildlife, and the elder son has indicated he wants to serve as Secretary of the Interior. But now we know that his Secretary of Agriculture—also a critical post for animal welfare—could be murder on other animals.

Photo courtesy of Greg Latza/For The HSUS

Donald Trump’s newly-announced Agricultural Advisory Committee is a veritable rogues gallery of anti-animal crusaders. The group boasts a wealthy funder of an anti-animal super PAC, politicians who sponsored state “ag-gag” measures and opposed the most modest animal welfare bills, and leaders of the factory farming industry. It’s an unmistakable signal from the Trump campaign that he will be an opponent of animal welfare—a show of overt hostility toward the cause of animal protection that raises serious concerns for the humane movement about a potential Trump administration.

One member of the committee is Forrest Lucas, the money man behind the so-called Protect the Harvest, a front group devoted to fighting animal welfare organizations at every turn, on everything. A peevish advocate of trophy hunting, puppy mills, and big agribusiness, Lucas has never met a case of animal exploitation he wouldn’t defend. He and his group opposed efforts to establish felony-level penalties for malicious cruelty against dogs, cats, and horses; set standards for the care of dogs in large-scale commercial puppy mills; and even promote the spaying and neutering of pets, and provide adequate shelter for dogs to protect them from the elements. He put hundreds of thousands of dollars into fighting an anti-puppy mill ballot measure in Missouri, he formed a super PAC specifically to defeat animal advocates, and started a film company to produce fictional dramas on animal issues with an ideological bent. He may be the leading anti-animal advocate in the United States, and he’s got a front row seat in the Trump administration.

Former Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman is also among the names announced by the campaign, and he brings a track record as one of the nation’s most ardent anti-animal welfare governors. Heineman vetoed a bill to stop the trophy hunting of mountain lions—even though the state legislature had acted on the killing of these inedible wild cats. He’s also been a horrid demagogue in defending factory farming, saying that he was going to “kick HSUS’s ass” out of the state and unapologetically defending battery cages and gestation crates.

Then there’s Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, the first governor in the United States to sign an ag-gag measure into law. Designed to shield agribusiness interests from public scrutiny by punishing whistleblowers, ag-gag bills give factory farmers unbridled and unchecked power over worker safety, public health, and animal welfare.

Also on Trump’s council is former Iowa state Rep. Annette Sweeney, the lawmaker who conceived of and originally introduced this troubling affront to free speech. Branstad and Heineman both signed on to the federal lawsuit to invalidate California’s law restricting the sale of eggs from barren battery cages—fortunately, they lost that lawsuit in court.

Recent reports suggest that Iowa factory farming mogul Bruce Rastetter may be Trump’s leading candidate for Secretary of Agriculture, so his inclusion on the council is unsurprising. Rastetter has made a fortune off the kind of industrial agricultural practices that family farmers and animal advocates have fought for decades, and was connected to Trump through New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who had vetoed a state ban on cruel pig gestation crates in a sop to Iowa’s pork industry. Considering the fact Rastetter’s brother is CEO of a company that builds gestation crates, we have good reason to be concerned about the potential for crony capitalist dealings in a Trump administration.

Also included in this gathering of the biggest anti-animal welfare names is Texas state agriculture commissioner Sid Miller, who called Meatless Mondays “treasonous.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture enforces the federal laws on humane slaughter, animal fighting, horse soring, and animal care at thousands of puppy mills, research laboratories, circuses, roadside zoos, and other facilities. Over the last few years, the agency has taken steps to prevent the slaughter of downer cows and veal calves; fortify the enforcement of the Horse Protection Act; ban imports of puppies from foreign puppy mills and require licensing and inspection of Internet puppy sellers; improve disaster planning for animals; and restrict public contact and exhibition of tiger cubs.

Just imagine a concentration of anti-animal hardliners in the next administration unwinding so much of that progress, repealing dozens of Obama administration rulemaking actions for animals, and giving the keys of the USDA to the most vitriolic, extreme voices in animal welfare. It’s a frightening thought, and animal advocates should be asking this question in the months ahead: Would a Trump administration oppose humane-minded reforms and side with fringe interests over the values of mainstream Americans when it comes to animal welfare rules and enforcement? Given the membership of this council, he’s charted a path directly to that goal.

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Trumps stump for the Walter Palmer vote

Donald Trump’s sons reportedly took a break from their roles as their father’s surrogates in the hotly contested presidential election last week to pursue their most favored leisure activity: killing wild animals in far off places for their heads and hides, including the rarest species in the world. 

Photo by Vanessa Mignon

It wasn’t their first time out, as Donald Jr. and Eric Trump have made no secret of their predilection for trophy hunting, and Donald Jr. especially has been organizing outreach to sportsmen for the campaign. The brothers were chastised by the media for a series of gruesome photographs documenting their kills, which included a leopard, Cape buffalo, waterbuck, and other exotic creatures. Donald. Jr. even held up the tail of an African elephant he’d killed.

It’s unclear what species are in their crosshairs on this latest hunting trip. Bloomberg reported that the Trumps’ hunting party was headed to Yukon, while an Instagram post by Donald Jr. was geotagged “Yellowknife Airport” in Canada’s Northwest Territories. Whatever the exact details of the excursion, these are areas that offer all kinds of guided trophy hunts of grizzly bears, wolves, wolverines, Dall sheep, caribou, and other creatures. It’s the kind of place wealthy Safari Club International members might go in search of some awards for the record book, such as the “North American 29,” the “Predators of the World,” or the “Bears of the World.” 

When animal activists interrupted a Hillary Clinton rally last week in Las Vegas as an attention-getting action—even though there was no specific grievance against her—Clinton responded nimbly, noting, “Apparently these people are here to protest Trump because Trump and his kids have killed a lot of animals.” That’s an image that could hurt Trump with mainstream voters, especially independents and Republican women. The lifestyle the Trump sons are living—spending tens of thousands hopscotching the planet to amass heads and hides of the rarest and most majestic animals on earth—is more on par with the type of killing done by Walter Palmer (the wealthy dentist who shot Cecil the lion) than it is with rank-and-file sportsmen or conservationists.

In defense of their recreational pursuits, the Trumps and their lot trot out the same tired arguments about hunting and conservation that trophy hunters have been employing for decades. But times have changed, and nations all around the world are beginning to understand the economic value of keeping animals in the wild rather than offering them up to the highest bidders for shooting and stuffing.

In 1977, Kenya banned sport hunting to preserve ecotourism. In 2012, Costa Rica did the same, followed by Botswana in 2014. These decisions are well-founded in economic analysis. A 2012 impact study of nine African countries found that ecotourism brought in 56 times more money than trophy hunting. A congressional report released this year found little evidence that the money spent by trophy hunters is actually being used for conservation, mostly due to government corruption, lax enforcement, a lack of transparency, and poorly managed wildlife programs.

After all, Cecil was a famous lion in Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park where he lived with his family—a pride of female lions and their cubs. His magnificent, awe-inspiring presence was enjoyed by thousands of visitors. His death was enjoyed by only one person. But what is the value of living Cecils—whether they are lions, elephants, rhinos, leopards, or any of the other animals sought by big-game hunters—as compared to the value of dead specimens? An American dentist paid $55,000 to shoot Cecil, but it’s estimated that a living Cecil would have generated nearly $1 million in tourism over his lifetime.

This isn’t about picking on the family of a presidential candidate. The candidate has these two men at the center of communications and strategy for the campaign. They are his surrogates, meeting with officials of the NRA, Safari Club International, and other trophy hunting interests. In the wake of Cecil’s killing, a nationwide survey by HBO Real Sports/Marist Poll showed that 86 percent of Americans disapprove of big-game hunting. The Trumps should pay attention to these figures when they return from the hunting trail to the campaign trail. 

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

No political pay-off for anti-wolf Michigan state senator

The Michigan state legislature’s leading anti-animal politician—a zealous crusader for the trophy hunting and trapping of wolves and a serial exaggerator about wolf encounters in the Upper Peninsula—lost by a substantial margin in a Republican primary for the U.S. House seat in the state’s northernmost congressional district.

iStock Photo

State Sen. Tom Casperson, of Escanaba, received only 32 percent of the vote in the 1st congressional district, the state’s largest and most rural. The victor, retired Lt. General Jack Bergman, a 40-year veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, ran and won his first campaign with 38 percent of the vote in what could only be considered a political upset. Bergman, who also defeated state Sen. Jason Allen in the contest, will go on to face Democrat Lon Johnson in the general election.

Casperson had been at the center of a jarring MLive investigative series on how state politicians used exaggerated or completely fabricated tales of wolf incidents to justify stripping away legal protection for wolves and opening a trophy hunting season on the state’s small wolf population. He exemplified demagoguery at its worst, using half-truths, falsehoods, and distortion to advance policy decisions, and trying to cover up the mistakes he and his colleagues made by denying Michigan voters the opportunity to weigh in on the issue.

He was the author of a state measure urging Congress to remove wolves from protected status under the Endangered Species Act, and pushed through a resolution stating, “Wolves appeared multiple times in the backyard of a daycare center shortly after the children were allowed outside to play. Federal agents disposed of three wolves in that backyard because of the potential danger to the children.”

As MLive reported, however, “there were no children in the backyard. There was a single wolf, not three. No wolves were shot there, on that day or any day... It is the story of how Michigan lawmakers embraced an account that never happened, and it is the story of how they sent it to Congress for consideration—opening the door for a hunt.”

The fact is, Casperson lobbied the federal government to take away wolves’ protection under the Endangered Species Act, as a prelude to his own legislative action to execute a state wolf hunting program. Specifically, once those federal protections were out of the way, Casperson led the legislature to pass a state bill during the lame-duck session to make the wolf a game species, again using exaggerated numbers about wolf depredation derived from one farm with reckless management practices. When Michigan voters collected more than 250,000 signatures to correct this mistake and place the wolf hunting law on the statewide ballot, Casperson authored and the legislature passed a second law to give power to the unelected, politically appointed Natural Resources Commission, making an end run around the voters since the commission’s decisions are not subject to any voter referendum.

After being exposed for his fictional account about wolves at a daycare center, Casperson took to the floor of the state Senate and apologized to his colleagues and to voters, acknowledging, “I was mistaken, I am accountable, and I am sorry. Words matter. Accuracy matters. Especially here, with a topic that is so emotional and is so important to so many, especially those whose way of life is being changed in my district. A decision here of whether or not we use sound science to manage wolves, as with all decisions this body makes, should not be based on emotions, agendas or innuendo, but rather on facts.”

Voters saw through the charade, and rejected both the wolf hunting proposal and the measure to transfer decision-making authority to the politically appointed and unelected Natural Resources Commission—both bills sponsored by Casperson and referred to the ballot by voter referendum—by wide margins. Proposal 2 was defeated in 69 of Michigan’s 83 counties, losing by a statewide vote of 64 to 36 percent, and losing by majorities in more than half the counties of the 1st congressional district.

Even in the part of the state where Casperson thought he had the most support, voters said no to the trophy hunting of wolves and said no to this power grab by politicians to take away their voting rights. They understood that there are fewer than 650 wolves in Michigan and that the law already allowed the killing of wolves when they threatened livestock, pets, or human safety. They knew that responsible hunters eat what they kill, and nobody eats wolves. They knew the use of painful steel-jawed leghold traps, hunting over bait, and even using packs of dogs to chase down and kill wolves all could have been in store if Casperson had his way and the Natural Resources Commission was given the unilateral power to decide on these cruel methods without any checks and balances from voters.

Michigan voters said no to the scare tactics, myths, and downright fibbing about wolves. And last night they said no to sending the state’s leading wolf hunting booster to Washington.

Friday, July 29, 2016

On International Tiger Day, roar for big cats

Today is International Tiger Day, and there’s no better time to take note of a sobering and perplexing figure: there are approximately double the number of tigers living in captivity in the United States than exist in the wild. This magnificent species has lost at least 50 percent of its habitat since the 1990s and the total wild population has dwindled to about 3,500 tigers remaining across Asia. But here in the U.S., an estimated 5,000 to 7,000 of these powerful carnivores are kept in basements, backyard menageries, and shoddy roadside zoos for commercial use and display, or personal fancy.

JP Bonnelly/The HSUS
Alex was part of an exotic pet rescue in Kansas
He is happy and safe and now resides at
Black Beauty Ranch.

This burgeoning captive tiger population continues to grow primarily because of a network of exhibition facilities that overbreed exotic animals to produce a steady supply of infant cubs for lucrative photo-ops and interactive experiences sold to members of the public. HSUS undercover investigations have revealed the physical abuse and nutritional deprivation these cubs suffer after they’re pulled from their moms immediately after birth to be “trained” for human contact. That’s why in 2012 The HSUS and a coalition of animal protection and conservation organizations filed a legal petition seeking to amend the Animal Welfare Act regulations to explicitly prohibit licensed exhibitors from allowing members of the public to have direct contact or unsafe close contact with tigers or other big cats, bears, or primates, regardless of the age of the animal.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture took preliminary action in response to this petition, issuing a formal notice that it is a violation of federal law to expose newborn exotic cats to public handling, since these vulnerable animals have underdeveloped immune systems and “should be housed with their mother for as long as possible after birth to promote good health.” Now, USDA has opened a comment period to gather additional information to support further regulatory action—you can take action here to voice your support for putting an end to the use of tigers of any age (or other dangerous wild animals) for this unsafe and inhumane practice.

At a time when wild tigers are mercilessly poached for their bones, meat, claws, teeth, and genitals, it is incomprehensible that we continue to allow tigers to be exploited domestically just for the thrill. This exploitation is not only inhumane and unsafe, but it puts an enormous financial burden on nonprofit organizations and wildlife sanctuaries, such as our affiliated Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch, which built state-of-the art enclosures to provide high-quality care to three tigers rescued from private menageries (you can watch a video here of one of the three, Alex, enjoying enrichment provided by his caregivers). Why should the rest of society have to pay for the actions of a few reckless individuals and commercial carnies who pose such a threat to public safety and animal welfare?

There’s much more that can be done to protect wild tigers here and around the world. HSLF and our coalition partners with Save Endangered Animals-Oregon just this week qualified a ballot measure for the November election to eliminate the in-state market in Oregon for tiger parts and other products of endangered species. This follows a successful ballot measure we supported last year in Washington state cracking down on wildlife trafficking and drying up demand for the parts of tigers, lions, elephants, rhinos, and other magnificent creatures. The HSUS and Humane Society International joined 43 other organizations to call on countries to end the tiger trade and phase out tiger farms. And HSI is working to reduce international demand for tiger products, releasing a children’s book about tigers and the issues that threaten their survival, produced in partnership with the Vietnamese government. The model for the book is a similar project that helped reduce demand for rhino horn by 33 percent in one year.

The United States has a critical role to play in the global effort to save this iconic species from extinction, and we must lead by example. Until our federal government takes decisive action to stop the frivolous breeding and domestic trade of tigers, it will continue to impede our ability to urge Asian tiger range countries to take action to do the same. Later this summer at the United Nations CITES Conference of the Parties meeting in South Africa, there will be opportunity to take action to address the abuse of captive tigers in American roadside zoos and Chinese tiger farms in an effort to ensure that the global captive population of tigers is managed to promote the conservation of the species and to protect the welfare of the individual tigers.

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