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Wednesday, July 29, 2015

House Veterinarians and Bipartisan Lawmakers Team Up to Make Soring a Thing of the PAST

Good news for horses: a bipartisan group of more than 100 members of Congress, evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats, joined together as original cosponsors of the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act introduced last night in the U.S. House. Led by Reps. Ted Yoho, R-Fla., and Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., who are both veterinarians and co-chairs of the House Veterinary Medicine Caucus, along with the leadership team of Reps. Mike Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., David Jolly, R-Fla., and Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., this crucial legislation, H.R. 3268, aims to stop the intentional torture of Tennessee walking horses and related breeds just for ribbons and prizes. 

The Senate version of the PAST Act was introduced earlier this year by Sens. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., and Mark Warner, D-Va., and S. 1121 now has 43 cosponsors (nearly half the Senate) and continues to build momentum.

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The PAST Act will make the act of soring a horse illegal. Photo by Lance Murphey for The HSUS

In 1970, Congress passed the Horse Protection Act (HPA) to stop “soring”—a barbaric practice in which unscrupulous trainers injure the horses' hooves and legs to induce an unnatural, high-stepping gait prized in some show rings. In some case, the trainers apply caustic chemicals, including diesel fuel and mustard oil, and cook it into the horses' flesh by wrapping their legs in plastic, jam painful objects into their tender hooves, and use a host of other gruesome techniques to make it hurt for the horses to step down.

However, the law is weak and soring remains widespread in a small segment (an estimated 10 percent) of the Tennessee walking horse industry. These trainers have soring down to a science, and they continue to devise new ways to inflict pain on their victims while concealing evidence of the cheating and cruelty—all to produce the artificial “Big Lick” gait and gain unfair advantage at horse competitions.

After decades of abuse, it’s high time that Congress takes action. The PAST Act will do what’s needed—amend the existing law to end the corrupt system of industry self-policing, ban the use of devices implicated in the practice of soring such as chains that strike against horses’ sore legs and heighten the pain, strengthen penalties, hold all those involved accountable, and make the act of soring a horse illegal. 

The PAST Act has broad support across the board, from more than 60 horse organizations (such as the American Horse Council) to major animal protection groups to veterinary groups, including the American Association of Equine Professionals, American Veterinary Medical Association, Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association, and state veterinary groups in all 50 states. The National Sheriffs’ Association, Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, Tennessee walking horse enthusiasts intent on cleaning up their sport, celebrities, and many others are among the more than 600 groups and individuals who have endorsed this legislation.

Among horse industry professionals, one of PAST’s supporters is world-renowned horseman and educator, Monty Roberts. Known as the “Horse Whisperer,” Roberts has been an instrumental force in reshaping the horse world by fostering a nonviolent training approach called "Join-Up.” Roberts notes, “Soring is one of the most despicable training methods I have ever come across in my lifetime of protecting horses. It’s incredible to me that an industry based on the intentional infliction of pain to an animal could still exist in America. Congress should finally bring an end to this blatant cruelty and pass the PAST Act without delay.”

Walt Taylor, founder and past president of the American Farriers Association and founder and current president of the World Farriers Association, has been a farrier (trimming and shoeing horses’ hooves) for more than 65 years and has witnessed firsthand the abusive methods used to exacerbate these breeds’ natural gaits. According to Taylor, “the needless suffering of horses caused by greed and gratuitous abuse must stop….I find it unconscionable to abuse horses for monetary gain, fame or fashion.”

The Big Lick faction of the walking horse industry has thumbed its nose at the law long enough. The PAST Act is common sense legislation essential to accomplish what Congress set out to do more than 40 years ago—stomp out soring once and for all. Please contact your members of Congress today and ask them to cosponsor this bill to make soring a thing of the PAST. 

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Anti-Cruelty Bill Gathers Steam, to Protect Animals and People

It’s well established that malicious animal cruelty indicates a broader social pathology and lack of empathy, and the perpetrators often are indiscriminate in choosing victims – one day it’s a dog or a horse, another day it’s a neighborhood child or just some innocent passerby. Media reports revealed that days before the recent mass shooting in a Louisiana movie theater, the suspect bragged about bashing a cat “on the head with a piece of rebar,” and ranted about his desire to drug sick pets and “finish them off with an ax.”

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The National Sheriffs’ Association is backing the PACT Act, which will make our communities safer for humans and for animals. Photo by iStockphoto

A bipartisan group of lawmakers on Capitol Hill today called on their colleagues in Congress to pass the Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture (PACT) Act, to help keep animals and people safe in our communities.

S. 1831 and H.R. 2293, sponsored by Senators Patrick Toomey, R-Pa., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Representatives Lamar Smith, R-Tex., Ted Deutch, D-Fla., Tom Marino, R-Pa., and Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., would establish a federal crime for extreme acts of animal cruelty when they occur in interstate or foreign commerce. It would complement the federal animal fighting and crush video statutes and the felony cruelty laws in all 50 states.

As Senator Toomey said today, “There should be no tolerance in our society for this kind of behavior, and it’s our job as legislators to ensure that the laws that we pass reflect the values of our society. So I think there’s a strong moral obligation to protect innocent animals from such appalling cruelty.”

Congressman Smith, former chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, added that these acts of animal cruelty are “more horrific than almost anything imaginable.”

There is already a federal ban on the trade in obscene video depictions of live animals being crushed, burned, drowned, suffocated, impaled, or subjected to other forms of heinous cruelty in perverse “snuff” films, which was recently upheld on appeal. But while the images and video depictions of cruelty are illegal under federal law, the underlying conduct of the cruelty itself is not.

The PACT Act would close this gap in the law, and also provide prosecutors with a valuable additional tool when animal cruelty is occurring in a federal facility or in interstate commerce. For example, federal prosecutors would be empowered to take legal action on malicious cruelty to animals on federal property or in a federal building, or if they found it in the course of investigating another interstate crime (say, in pursuing a drug smuggling or human trafficking ring). 

As we’ve seen with animal fighting, the state and federal laws are complementary and provide the widest set of tools to crack down on that brutal bloodsport and its associated criminal activities. Some animal fighting raids are multi-state and multi-jurisdictional, and sometimes the perpetrators are charged under state law, or federal law, or both.

With animal cruelty, too, most cases can be handled under the existing state statutes. The federal law wouldn’t interfere with those of the states but would provide an additional overlay when necessary.

The National Sheriffs’ Association is backing the PACT Act, and its deputy executive director, John Thompson, said in advocating for the bill, “We need our federal partners and federal prosecutors to stand with us at the local level and have some horse power, which they don’t have now.”

Senator Blumenthal, who previously served as a federal prosecutor and state attorney general, said today, “We are really measured in our society by how we treat animals. It says something about us as human beings.”

The PACT Act will make our communities safer for both human and animal residents. Please ask your members of Congress to cosponsor the PACT Act today.

Friday, July 24, 2015

How Safe Are You From an Escaped Pet Lion?

If you live in one of five states with no laws preventing the private possession of dangerous wild animals, there’s no telling what kind of safety threats are looming in your own neighborhood. Dozens of Milwaukee residents reported seeing a lion running loose, spurring a media frenzy this week. One blurry image captured on video in a resident’s backyard suggests this could be a young male or adult female African lion. People are so fearful and on edge that one man mistakenly shot and injured a pit bull dog, thinking it was the lion.

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Captive wild and exotic animals have unique and extremely complex needs that are difficult, if not impossible, for individuals to provide. Pictured above, an African lion in the wild. Photo by Vanessa Mignon

It shouldn’t take a tragedy before Wisconsin, and the other remaining holdout states of Alabama, Nevada, North Carolina, and South Carolina, enact common-sense laws to prevent reckless people from putting entire communities at risk by keeping dangerous wild and exotic pets.

It’s astonishing, but in some cases, even deaths and catastrophic injuries resulting from captive wild animal attacks have not moved legislators to protect residents. It’s still legal to keep a pet tiger in North Carolina, even after two separate incidents in which a 10-year-old boy was mauled to death by his uncle’s 400-pound pet tiger and a three-year-old boy was critically injured and left permanently blind after his father’s pet tiger crushed his skull.

It’s been three years since two chimpanzees escaped from a backyard cage in a residential Las Vegas neighborhood, yet Nevada still has no law. Police responded to that incident with more than 20 squad cars, diverted motorists away from the area, and warned residents to stay indoors. The chimpanzees ran amok, climbed into cars, pounded on vehicles, and banged on windows of homes. In order to protect the public, police shot and killed the male chimpanzee when he darted toward a crowd of onlookers.

Captive wild and exotic animals have unique and extremely complex needs that are difficult, if not impossible, for individuals to provide. Many of these animals are long-lived species and end up being discarded or released by people who were unprepared to provide decades of costly care. These animals pose a danger not only to their owner, but to children living in the household, visitors, neighbors, and emergency responders such as firefighters, paramedics, and police.

It never turns out well for the animals, and it’s often the taxpayers and nonprofit sanctuaries that bear the burden of paying costs related to escapes, attacks, and neglect cases that are all too often the predictable outcomes when these animals are kept in private hands.

While there are gaps in the state laws, there are problems at the federal level too. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has not yet finalized a rule on “generic tigers,” meaning that private individuals and roadside menageries can keep and breed these animals without the same record-keeping and standards required for professional accredited zoos with conservation breeding programs. The U.S. Department of Agriculture allows the public to have direct physical contact with big cats, primates, and other dangerous wild animals dragged around to shopping malls and put on display for paid photo ops, but is considering an HSUS legal petition to close that loophole.  

We hope the situation in Milwaukee is resolved with no deaths or injuries and it triggers state lawmakers to finally ban the private possession of wild and exotic animals. Legislation has previously been introduced and the time to put an end to this dangerous trade is now.

If you live in one of the other states—Alabama, Nevada, North Carolina, or South Carolina—please urge your state legislators to take action and make it a top priority to end the private possession of dangerous wild animals. They shouldn’t wait until the next mauling or fatal attack takes place because of someone’s reckless behavior. 

Thursday, July 09, 2015

House Action is a Mixed Bag for Animals

Yesterday was a mixed day of results for animals on Capitol Hill, with some setbacks and some progress on a number of different fronts for companion animals, wildlife, and farm animals. 

What good news there was came in the Agriculture Appropriations Bill that passed the House Appropriations Committee.

A provision of the bill sends a strong message that grisly, taxpayer-funded experiments on farm animals at federal research facilities will not be tolerated. It prevents the Agricultural Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture from receiving five percent of its appropriations ($56 million in federal funding) until it certifies in writing to both the House and the Senate that it has updated its animal care policies and that its facilities will be subject to regular inspections.

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A provision of the bill sends a strong message that grisly, taxpayer-funded experiments on farm animals at federal research facilities will not be tolerated. Photo by iStockphoto

The New York Times exposed gruesome experiments at the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center in Nebraska, including pigs locked in steam chambers until they died, calves born with “deformed vaginas” and tangled legs, and sheep bred to produce lambs without any human assistance, with the newborns left to starve, freeze, or, get battered to death by hail. The congressional committee, in a report that accompanied the legislation, said that it was “disturbed” to read the Times article and “continues to be deeply disappointed in the department’s response and must take action to ensure the welfare of all animals used in research at ARS facilities.”

In another victory, Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Calif., succeeded in including language in the bill to deny funds for USDA’s licensing or relicensing of Class B animal dealers who sell “random source” dogs and cats for use in research, often obtained from animal shelters, flea markets, or “free to a good home” ads (and sometimes from pet theft). The 1966 Animal Welfare Act was intended to stop the illegal sale of family pets for use in experimentation. However, nearly 50 years after the passage of this landmark legislation, the AWA still fails to reliably protect either pet owners or animals from Class B dealers. The animals are routinely deprived of veterinary care, sufficient food, clean water, safe and sanitary cages, and protection from extreme weather, as well as being subjected to experimentation.

The House committee bill also contains good news for animals in terms of funding for critical animal welfare laws. Thanks to strong bipartisan support, funding for USDA to enforce and implement these key laws was sustained and even modestly increased in some cases. In such a tough budget climate with so many programs competing for finite dollars, we are pleased that lawmakers understand it’s possible to achieve macro-level cuts while still taking care to ensure that specific small and vital accounts such as these have the funds they need.

Here’s a rundown of what the House committee bill provides for key programs:

  • Animal Welfare Act: $28,410,000 ($400,000 increase) for USDA enforcement of the important law that sets basic standards for care of animals at more than 10,000 sites across the country—including puppy mills, research laboratories, roadside zoos, traveling circuses, and airlines.  The increase is designated for inspections and oversight of USDA’s Agricultural Research Service facilities involved in research on animals.
  • Horse Protection Act: $697,000 (current funding level) for USDA enforcement to end the cruel practice of “soring” Tennessee walking horses and related breeds  (deliberately inflicting severe pain and cooking chemicals into the horses’ legs and feet to make it hurt for them to step down, so they will exaggerate their high-stepping gait and win prizes). 
  • Investigative and Enforcement Services: $16,224,000 (current funding level) for this USDA division whose responsibilities include investigation of inspectors’ findings regarding alleged violations of the AWA and HPA and the initiation of follow-up enforcement actions. 
  • Office of Inspector General: $95,643,000 ($617,000 increase) for this office that handles many areas, including investigations and audits of USDA’s enforcement efforts to improve compliance with the AWA, HPA, Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, and regulations to protect downed animals.
  • Humane Slaughter: Helpful committee report language (restated from previous years) directing the Food Safety and Inspection Service to ensure that funds provided for Humane Methods of Slaughter Act enforcement will be focused on overseeing compliance with humane handling rules for live animals as they arrive and are offloaded and handled in pens, chutes, and stunning areas, and that all inspectors receive robust national training.
  • Veterinary Student Loan Repayment: $5,000,000 (current funding level) for this program that helps ease the shortage of veterinarians practicing in rural communities and in government positions (such as those overseeing humane slaughter, AWA, and HPA rules), by repaying student debt for those who choose to practice practice in underserved areas and in the vital government divisions devoted to veterinary inspection and oversight.

Without adequate funding for enforcement, the laws and rules we work to enact are mostly just exhortations. The HSUS and HSLF have been steadily working to build the enforcement budgets for these and doing this work provides a critical service to the broader movement to protect all animals. Over the past 17 years, for example, we’ve succeeded in boosting the annual funding for enforcement of the AWA by 205 percent (a cumulative total of more than $157 million in new dollars to the program). Today, there are 123 AWA inspectors, compared to about 60 during the 1990s, to help ensure basic humane treatment at thousands of facilities with animals under their care.

There was a major setback in this same committee, however, when it failed to adopt an amendment to prevent the slaughter of horses for human consumption on U.S. soil. The amendment, offered by Rep. Sam Farr, D-Calif., resulted in a tie vote, 24-24, with the measure not passing. Several longtime Republican supporters of this provision reversed their votes in committee and instead sided with the slaughter of horses for human consumption.

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We will not waver in our efforts to protect American horses. Photo by The HSUS

The fight is not over, as we prepare for similar amendments on the House floor and in the Senate Appropriations Committee, and we will not waver in our efforts to protect American horses. The horse slaughter industry is a predatory, inhumane enterprise. They don’t “euthanize” old horses, but precisely the opposite: they buy up young and healthy horses, often by misrepresenting their intentions, and kill them to sell the meat to Europe and Japan.

In other bad news, the Interior Appropriations bill which was on the House floor this week, includes harmful riders that would block the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from any rulemaking to address the ivory trade and elephant poaching, and would force the removal of wolves in the Great Lakes and Wyoming from protections under the Endangered Species Act. Congressman Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., offered an amendment to strike the ivory rider, and Congresswoman Niki Tsongas, D-Mass., sponsored one to block the weakening of the Endangered Species Act for wolves and other species. Both amendments unfortunately failed on largely partisan votes.

It’s shameful that so many lawmakers pandered to the NRA and sided with ivory sellers and elephant poachers, when close to 100 elephants are being butchered every day for their tusks. There is an epidemic of elephant poaching in Africa, claiming as many as 35,000 elephants each year throughout their range, and threatening extinction of the species. The biggest ivory-selling markets in the world are in China and the United States, and these sales are fueling the slaughter of elephants thousands of miles away.  African armed militia groups massacred hundreds of elephants with the sale of the animals’ tusks financing murderous activities of al-Shabaab, the Lord’s Resistance Army, and the Janjaweed, so this is a national security issue as well as a humane issue.

It’s also shameful that lawmakers continue to try to punch holes in the Endangered Species Act, and strip protections from wolves, with the public and the courts being shut out of the process. They would hand over wolf management to states in which more than 1,700 wolves have been killed in the last few years with the aid of leghold traps, snares, packs of hounds, bait site, clubs, and firearms. If members of Congress can dictate wolf management by legislative fiat, it opens the door for any politician or special interest group to do the same for a species they don’t like.

See how your U.S. representative voted on the ivory amendment and the wolf amendment. If they voted “aye” please thank them for standing up for animals, conservation, and national security, and if they voted “no” please let them know how disappointed you are. Also, please ask them to oppose the final passage of the Interior bill, which includes these harmful provisions.

We will continue to watch the appropriations process closely and keep you posted on the fights over horse slaughter, ivory trade, wolves, and other critical animal issues. 

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Congress Needs to Act Both at Home and Abroad to Protect Elephants from Poaching

Today the House Foreign Affairs Committee unanimously passed H.R. 2494, the Global Anti-Poaching Act, sponsored by Committee Chairman Ed Royce, R-Calif., and Ranking Member Eliot Engel, D-N.Y.

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This is a meaningful step forward in the effort to crack down on global wildlife trafficking and the poaching of imperiled species, including elephants and rhinos.

We are grateful to Chairman Royce and Ranking Member Engel for spearheading this legislation, and we hope the House will take it up and pass it this summer.

The bill takes a multi-step approach to combat the international poaching rings. It:

  • requires the Secretary of State to identify the foreign countries determined to be major sources, transit points, or consumers of wildlife trafficking products—those countries that have “failed demonstrably” to adhere to international agreements on endangered or threatened species will receive a special designation, and the Secretary of State will be authorized to withhold certain assistance from them;

  • puts wildlife trafficking on a level playing field with other serious crimes like weapons trafficking and drug trafficking, making it a triggering offense for higher penalties under money laundering and racketeering laws, and requires that any fines be used for federal conservation and anti-poaching efforts;   

  • authorizes the President to provide security assistance to African countries for counter-wildlife-trafficking efforts;

  • takes a multi-country, regionally focused approach by expanding wildlife enforcement networks (WENs) to help partner countries strengthen coordination and share information and intelligence on illegal wildlife trafficking; and

  • supports increased training of partner countries’ wildlife law enforcement rangers on the front lines of the fight against poachers, who are often armed with night-vision goggles, heavy weaponry, and even helicopters.

There is an epidemic of elephant poaching in Africa, claiming as many as 35,000 elephants each year throughout their range, and threatening the viability of the species. Much of the killing is done by terrorist groups, with the sale of the animals’ tusks financing murderous activities of al-Shabaab, the Lord’s Resistance Army, and the Janjaweed. 

The destruction of elephants is not only a threat to international security and to the very survival of elephants as a species, but it also jeopardizes billions in commerce generated from ecotourism—a bulwark of the economy for so many African nations.

Unfortunately, the House may also take a step backwards on the issue when it begins consideration of the Interior appropriations bill later today. A harmful provision in the bill would block any rulemaking by the Obama administration to crack down on the ivory trade. 

It’s hard to reconcile the idea of the Congress advancing the Royce-Engel bill today, but other lawmakers seeking to stymie domestic efforts to reduce demand. If we are to be successful in the effort to end the poaching crisis and save elephants from extinction, we must take action both at home and abroad.  That’s why we at HSLF will be fighting to strike the rider that would block further federal restrictions on the ivory trade in the U.S.

The biggest ivory-selling markets in the world are in China and the U.S., and these sales are fueling the slaughter of elephants thousands of miles away. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is set to propose a carefully balanced rule for public comment to crack down on the domestic illegal ivory market, while protecting legal owners of antique ivory.

The Interior bill would prematurely kill that rule before it is even released, short-circuiting a policy that will benefit global security, economic development, and conservation and animal welfare, and also subverting a sound process that has included key stakeholders. The rider preventing Fish and Wildlife Service action on the ivory-trafficking issue must be struck from the bill.

Please contact your U.S. Representative, and ask him or her to support an amendment that would strike the Interior rider that enables elephant poaching.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Pretty Doesn’t Have to Hurt: Humane Cosmetics Act Introduced

More than 30 countries—home to 1.7 billion consumers—prohibit the manufacture and sale of animal-tested cosmetics. The United States can help accelerate the pace of reform worldwide and drive the market toward cruelty-free products with new bipartisan legislation introduced today in Congress.

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The Humane Cosmetics Act, sponsored by Reps. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., Don Beyer, D-Va., Joe Heck, R-Nev., and Tony Cárdenas, D-Calif., will phase out both the use of live animals in cosmetics testing and the sale of cosmetics that have been tested on animals.

Over the past two years, we’ve witnessed a global transformation on this issue.

Animal testing for cosmetics has been banned across the European Union, Norway, Israel, India and New Zealand, with similar measures introduced and under consideration in Australia, Brazil, Canada, South Korea, and Taiwan.

With today’s bill, the United States would join that international effort.

We don’t need to force-feed animals in massive, lethal doses or subject them to having chemicals dripped in their eyes just to produce lipstick and eye shadow. Such practices are expensive, labor-intensive, and outdated.

Under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetics Act, cosmetics companies are prohibited from manufacturing and marketing misbranded or adulterated products, and they are responsible for substantiating the safety of their products and ingredients before those products reach the market. But the Food and Drug Administration, which regulates cosmetics, neither requires pre-market approval nor animal testing to prove the safety of cosmetics.

New technologies now exist that allow for replacing animals in safety testing for cosmetics. Examples include human cell-based models for skin and eye irritation, skin allergy, skin absorption, genetic toxicity, and sunlight-induced “phototoxicity.”

These non-animal technologies are already faster and as predictive of human safety—if not more so—than animal methods. They’re also less expensive in the long run. And thousands of ingredients have already been tested for safe use in cosmetics.

The trend toward kindness in cosmetics production has become obvious in the marketplace, too. More than 600 companies in North America have become Leaping Bunny-certified, agreeing to neither conduct nor commission new animal testing on products or ingredients.

And more than 140 cosmetic companies and stakeholders have endorsed the Humane Cosmetics Act, including Coty, LUSH, Moroccanoil, Overstock.com, Paul Mitchell, Seventh Generation, The Body Shop, Aubrey Organics, Chantecaille, and Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap.

While many Americans may be conflicted about using animals for medical research, there is an emerging consensus that it’s unnecessary and morally wrong for the validation of the safety of cosmetics. 

Pope Francis addressed the issue last week in his new encyclical on the environment, noting “the "Catechism of the Catholic Church" teaches that experimentation on animals is morally acceptable only if it remains within reasonable limits [and] contributes to caring for or saving human lives… human power has limits and that it is contrary to human dignity to cause animals to suffer or die needlessly.”

Corporate leaders know that they need to be responsive to consumer demands for cruelty-free products. A recent Nielsen survey reported that the most important cosmetic packaging claim is that the product is “not tested on animals.” And 43 percent of those surveyed said they’d pay more for cosmetics that weren’t tested on animals. Americans and citizens around the world want and deserve access to safe and humane cosmetics.

If the United States wants to remain a leader in the global cosmetics market, it’s time to provide that kind of assurance to its citizens and to those of other nations. Technology and innovation have been a force for good, making animal testing unnecessary and avoidable.

The passage of the Humane Cosmetics Act would not only spell relief for countless animals. It would send a message to the rest of the world that we don’t need to use cruel and outdated methods to ensure the safety of beauty and personal care products.

We are grateful to Reps. McSally, Beyer, Heck, and Cárdenas for leading this important effort. Please contact your U.S. Representative today, and urge him or her to cosponsor the Humane Cosmetics Act.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Who's Afraid of Big, Bad Policy? War on Wolves Wages On

Some anti-wolf politicians in Congress are once again pushing to force the removal of wolves from the Endangered Species Act and to block wildlife biologists, the courts, and so many members of the public from having anything to say about it.  It’s the worst kind of back-room deal-making, and we need your help now to stop it.

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Alamy

Both the House and Senate versions of the Interior appropriations bill include noxious provisions to completely strip wolves of their Endangered Species Act protections in Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

They would hand over wolf management to hostile states in which more than 1,700 wolves have been killed in the last few years with the aid of leghold traps, snares, packs of hounds, bait site, clubs, and firearms.

These politicians talk a good game about scientific wildlife management, except when they don’t like a certain species and want politics to trump science.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service already has the tools to delist or downlist wolves, and the public and the courts have an opportunity to examine and weigh in on those proposals.

If members of Congress can dictate wolf management by legislative fiat, it punches a hole in the Endangered Species Act and opens the door for any politician or special interest group to do the same for a species they don’t like.

Fortunately, many lawmakers are speaking out and injecting some common-sense into the wolf debate.

“This rider is a tremendous overreach that would interfere in the federal listing of endangered species,” said Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., the ranking member of the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee. “Our committee’s role is to appropriate the necessary funds to allow the expert staff of scientists and professionals to do their jobs working to protect endangered species. This bill should not be mandating which species do or do not require protection.”

Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., the ranking member of the Senate Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, also panned the “new language that overrides court rulings requiring that specific populations of gray wolves must maintain protections under the Endangered Species Act.  This provision circumvents the scientific and legal process established to protect imperiled species.”

Eighty members of Congress have written to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service urging them to adopt a compromise position: a petition filed by The HSUS and dozens of other conservation and wolf protection groups to list the wolves as threatened in the lower 48 states.

That policy would likely prevent any sport hunting or commercial trapping of wolves, while allowing state agencies to selectively remove wolves in the rare circumstance that they pose a threat to farm animals or human safety. This is the current policy in Minnesota, and it gives farmers and government officials more tools than they have now in Michigan, Wisconsin, Wyoming, and other wolf range states.

Lawmakers should look for practical solutions to problems and find a reasonable pathway forward to settle contentious policy issues when possible.

This proposal does just that, and it balances federal oversight and protections for wolves with more flexibility to manage wolf conflicts, including the depredation of livestock. A threatened listing would allow more management without ceding control entirely to state agencies that have consistently demonstrated an overreaching and cruel hand in dealing with wolves.

In a broader sense, it’s clear that wolves provide an enormous economic and ecological benefit. People will trek to wolf-inhabited forests precisely because they are there, boosting tourism-related commerce. 

Wolves also limit deer and moose populations, depressing crop depredation and shrinking the number of collisions between these animals and cars. Through their killing of the weak, sick, and older deer and moose, beavers, and other animals, they have a broad, balancing, and beneficial impact on ecosystems.

Please contact your members of Congress, and tell them to keep their paws of the Endangered Species Act. Ask them to oppose wolf delisting and other dangerous anti-wildlife riders.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Wildlife Disservices

Longtime wildlife advocate Congressman Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., led a briefing today to expose the annual, irresponsible killing of millions of wild animals on behalf of a few special interests.

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John Harrison

The USDA’s century-old “Wildlife Services” program is a little known, taxpayer-funded effort to deal with wildlife conflicts, but the agency principally focuses on the outdated and inefficient model of lethal control.

And that killing routinely utilizes shockingly inhumane and indiscriminate methods, such as toxic poisons, steel-jawed leghold traps, and aerial gunning.

In Fiscal Year 2014 alone, Wildlife Services spent more than $127 million—more than half of it from federal, state, and local taxes—to kill more than 2.7 million animals, including some endangered species and family pets.

These animals  were poisoned, gassed, shot from the ground and from aircraft, and killed in painful traps and snares to benefit clients like industrial timber operators, commercial fish farmers, and private ranchers grazing their livestock on public lands.

Today’s briefing was co-hosted by The HSUS and a coalition of wildlife and conservation groups and included a screening of "Exposed", an award-winning documentary by Predator Defense. Attendees heard from a number of panelists, including Denise Kavanagh, whose dog, Maggie, was killed by a Wildlife Services trap just steps from her backyard.

The HSUS also today released new research that identifies how Wildlife Services is misusing public funds. The HSUS report recommends seven critical reforms to the program that would help foster more humane and effective coexistence between people and wildlife. These include removing the financial incentive to kill, ending the use of inhumane management techniques, and ensuring nonlethal control is the preferred practice. 

But in order to become more humane and more effective, it’s critical that Wildlife Services as an agency also become more transparent. To date, the program has refused to provide significant information about spending even when directly requested by members of Congress.

People in communities where Wildlife Services is working now are often uninformed about the program’s activities, even when they and their beloved pets are at risk. Revelations about employee misconduct and negative media reports include a series of exposés that uncovered brutal and indiscriminate activities, fiscal irresponsibility, and environmental harm.

It’s time to hold Wildlife Services accountable for its actions and use of federal dollars. We are grateful to Rep. DeFazio and other members of Congress who have called for more transparent, humane, and balanced management, requested an audit of the culture within Wildlife Services and protested the use of poisons as a lethal control method.

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.

Now it’s your turn to speak up. Please contact USDA Secretary Vilsack, and ask for meaningful reform now. Taxpayers shouldn’t be asked to bankroll a wildlife management program that makes reckless killing its default option. 

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Where Science and Compassion Overlap: Making Progress on Animal Research Issues

If you want evidence that animal research in the country has gone off track, you don’t need to look very far.

After using chimpanzees in medical experiments for three decades, the New York Blood Center simply abandoned 66 chimps in Liberia and cut off funding for their care. Volunteers were handing cups of water to the animals every couple days, to prevent their deaths, until The HSUS stepped in and provided support to keep them alive.

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Agnes Souchal for The HSUS
Liberian chimps receive relief.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center was exposed for conducting ghoulish experiments on farm animals, with animals dying in steam chambers, of deformities, or left to starve or freeze to death.

In what all have come to see as a shocking example of government hypocrisy, medical research at a private laboratory must adhere to standards of the Animal Welfare Act, but the U.S. Department of Agriculture exempts itself from these same rules when it’s acting as the R&D arm of the factory farming industry.

Thankfully, there has been much progress on the issue of animal use in research, testing, and education as well.

Worldwide, the number of animals used has been coming down over the last several decades, and we’ve seen incredible progress in the development of non-animal methods in toxicity testing and related areas.

The National Institutes of Health has largely stopped using chimps in research and is working with animal welfare groups to retire them to sanctuaries. NIH no longer funds research involving dogs and cats rounded up from random sources such as shelters, flea markets, and free-to-a-good-home ads, and only two such “Class B” dealers are still licensed by the USDA—down from 200 some time ago.

Part of the reason for this success is a growing understanding that advancing science and medicine doesn’t mean we have to throw other values, such as humane treatment of animals, out the window.

Dr. David Wiebers, the chair of the board of directors of the Humane Society Legislative Fund, and emeritus professor of neurology at Mayo Clinic, has been arguing for decades that these ideas are not mutually exclusive, and he’s been working to build bridges between the medical profession and the animal welfare movement.

In a recently published Q&A with HSLF, Dr. Wiebers said:

When I first became involved with The HSUS 27 years ago, the medical and animal protection communities were at terrible odds with one another, largely over the issue of animal research. The rather strident discord between these communities seemed particularly ironic since the primary goal of the medical profession is to decrease the amount of unnecessary death and suffering in human beings—and the animal protection community simply wishes to extend this same goal to beings other than humans.

Over the years, however, I can tell you that I’ve spent a lot of time in both fields and that some of the most beautiful, caring and compassionate individuals you’ll ever meet come out of both of them. There is a great deal of similarity in the spirit of giving and caring, and the enormous fulfillment from helping others.

For these reasons, I have always viewed my work in animal protection as an extension of the work I do in medicine. The key to bridging the two fields is to focus on the common elements and the uniting force of compassion that runs through both of them. Happily, the discord between these two fields has lessened considerably over the years.

You can read the full interview with Dr. Wiebers in "Humane Activist," the HSLF membership magazine.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Make a PACT to Stop Animal Cruelty

In the mid-1980s, only four states—Massachusetts, Michigan, Oklahoma, and Rhode Island—had felony-level penalties for malicious cruelty to animals. But today, all 50 states have such a policy, and there’s a national consensus that vicious acts of animal abuse and torment should be treated as a serious crime.

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istock.com

At the federal level, too, it’s a felony to organize or train animals for dogfighting or cockfighting and a misdemeanor to attend an animal fight.

There is also a federal ban on the trade in obscene video depictions of live animals being crushed, burned, drowned, suffocated, impaled, or subjected to other forms of heinous cruelty in perverse “snuff” films. This ban was recently upheld on appeal.

But while the images and video depictions of cruelty are illegal under federal law, the underlying conduct of the cruelty itself is not.

Today, Congressmen Lamar Smith, R-Tex., Ted Deutch, D-Fla., Tom Marino, R-Pa., and Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., introduced the Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture (PACT) Act, H.R. 2293, to close this loophole.

This important new legislation will strengthen the animal crush video law and prohibit those same extreme acts of animal cruelty when they occur in interstate or foreign commerce. It would complement the federal animal fighting statute and the felony cruelty laws in all 50 states.

The PACT Act would also provide prosecutors with a valuable additional tool when animal cruelty is occurring in a federal facility or in interstate commerce. For example, federal prosecutors would be empowered to take legal action on malicious cruelty to animals on federal property or in a federal building, or if they found it in the course of investigating another interstate crime (say, in pursuing a drug smuggling or human trafficking ring). 

As we’ve seen with animal fighting, the state and federal laws are complementary and provide the widest set of tools to crack down on that brutal bloodsport and its associated criminal activities. Some animal fighting raids are multi-state and multi-jurisdictional, and sometimes the perpetrators are charged under state law, or federal law, or both.

With animal cruelty, too, most cases can be handled under the existing state statutes. The federal law wouldn’t interfere with those of the states but would provide an additional overlay when necessary.

For example, the cruel treatment of animals in airports (including the recent drowning of a two-week-old puppy in an airport toilet), on trains, highways, and other forms of interstate commerce could result in federal charges under the PACT Act. The law could also give prosecutors a powerful new tool to break up the trade or transport of animals for bestiality, which is especially needed because bestiality is still legal in some states.

A number of studies have drawn links between the abuse of animals and violence against people. A 2001-2004 study by the Chicago Police Department “revealed a startling propensity for offenders charged with crimes against animals to commit other violent offenses toward human victims.” Of those arrested for animal crimes, 65 percent had been arrested for battery against another person.

Of 36 convicted multiple murderers questioned in one study, 46 percent admitted committing acts of animal torture as adolescents. And of seven school shootings that took place across the country between 1997 and 2001, all involved boys who had previously committed acts of animal cruelty. 

A 2002 study found that 96 percent of juveniles who had sexual conduct with animals also admitted to sex offenses against humans. The FBI says serial sexual homicide perpetrators commonly sexually assault animals.

The PACT Act will make our communities safer for human and animal residents. We are grateful to Reps. Smith, Deutch, Marino, and Blumenauer for introducing this important anti-cruelty bill. Please ask your members of Congress to cosponsor the PACT Act today.

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