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Monday, May 02, 2016

Lawmakers to USDA: Make a Bigger Splash on Marine Mammal Rule

After almost 20 years of inaction, the U.S. Department of Agriculture finally proposed in February an update of its standards of care for marine mammals in captivity. But the proposed standards are weak, and need to be strengthened substantially.

There’s been such positive momentum recently on the issue of marine mammals in captivity, with SeaWorld ending the breeding of orcas and sunsetting that part of its business model, and a federal court blocking the import of 18 wild-caught beluga whales for display purposes. But the remaining marine mammals held in captive settings need improved standards for their handling, care and housing. As announced, the proposed standards do include some positive changes. We are very disappointed, however, that many of the standards remain unchanged from decades back, and some are even weakened. We are not alone in our concerns.

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Movies such as “Blackfish” have raised public consciousness of the plight of marine mammals in captivity. Photo by iStockphoto

Last week, seven Senators and 14 Representatives led by a strong team from California—Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer and Reps. Jared Huffman and Adam Schiff—sent a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack thanking him for taking some positive steps, but urging USDA to go further in the final marine mammal regulations.

Specifically, the letter expresses concern that the proposal leaves unchanged the standard for tank sizes that has been in place since 1984. Alarmingly, for some species such as beluga whales, bottlenose dolphins and killer whales, the proposed changes might even result in accepting smaller tanks. The USDA proposal ignores advice from the National Marine Fisheries Service, which called on USDA to use more precautionary calculations in setting minimum tank sizes.

The legislators also object to the exemption afforded to industry to get around salinity requirements, by allowing seals and sea lions kept in fresh water to simply be given salt supplements and saltwater eye baths.  USDA stated in its proposal that it “expects this will minimize additional costs and renovations at existing facilities.”  But the fact is, the agency should keep foremost in its sights and regulations the welfare of these animals, not just what will increase profitability.

Regarding the new standards for what used to be known as swim-with-the-dolphin programs (now to be called interactive programs), the letter points out that the USDA proposal would actually reduce some protections for marine mammals and the public, explicitly removing the requirement for a buffer zone that gives the animals a safe place to which to retreat while remaining in the program. The proposed changes would also increase the amount of time that dolphins are forced to be available for interactions with the public.

Movies such as “Blackfish” and “The Cove” have raised public consciousness of the plight of marine mammals in captivity, and the issue is now part of our national discourse. We are grateful to USDA for issuing these long-awaited regulations for captive marine mammals, but urge the agency to ensure that the final rules are aligned with public expectations of the conditions in which these magnificent creatures are held and the manner in which they are treated. With our allies in Congress lending a powerful voice for the welfare of captive marine mammals, along with thousands of individuals who have submitted public comments, we hope that the agency listens.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Key House Committee Takes Horse Slaughter off the Menu

We had a powerful showing today in the U.S. House Appropriations Committee, with animal protection leaders Reps. Sam Farr, D-Calif., and Charlie Dent, R-Pa., securing enough votes to pass their amendment dealing with horse slaughter for human consumption. The "defund" amendment to prevent the opening of horse slaughter plants on U.S. soil passed by a vote of 25 to 23.

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Jennifer Kunz/Duchess Sanctuary

Last year a similar measure narrowly failed in the same committee by a vote of 24 to 24, but was later approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee by a voice vote and retained in the final omnibus spending bill. With today’s action by the House panel, we will be in a stronger position to keep the doors of horse slaughter plants shuttered and prevent the use of American tax dollars for this cruel practice.

The horse slaughter industry is a predatory, inhumane enterprise. It doesn’t “euthanize” old horses, but precisely the opposite: “killer buyers” purchase young and healthy horses, often by misrepresenting their intentions, and kill them to sell the meat to Europe and Japan. Americans do not consume horse meat, and our nation’s limited agency resources and inspectors should not be diverted from the important current duties of protecting the food supply for U.S. consumers.

We are grateful to Reps. Farr and Dent for leading this successful bipartisan effort, and to all 25 committee members who voted in favor of the amendment to protect horses. If your representative serves on the committee, you can see how he or she voted below.

Lawmakers voting yes on the amendment, to protect horses: 

Sanford Bishop (D-GA), Ander Crenshaw (R-FL), Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Charlie Dent (R-PA), Sam Farr (D-CA), Michael Honda (D-CA),  Steve Israel (D-NY), David Jolly (R-FL), David Joyce (R-OH), Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), Derek Kilmer (D-WA), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Nita Lowey (D-NY), Betty McCollum (D-MN), Chellie Pingree (D-ME), David Price (D-NC), Mike Quigley (D-IL), Tom Rooney (R-FL), Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA), Dutch Ruppersberger (D-MD), Tim Ryan (D-OH), Jose Serrano (D-NY), Peter Visclosky (D-IN), Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), Kevin Yoder (R-KS).

Lawmakers voting no on the amendment: 

Robert Aderholt (R-AL), Mark Amodei (R-NV), Ken Calvert (R-CA), John Carter (R-TX), Tom Cole (R-OK), Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL), Chuck Fleischmann (R-TN), Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE), Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ),  Kay Granger (R-TX), Tom Graves (R-GA), Andy Harris (R-MD), Jaime Herrera Buetler (R-WA), Evan Jenkins (R-WV), Steven Palazzo (R-MS), Scott Rigell (R-VA), Martha Roby (R-AL), Hal Rogers (R-KY), Mike Simpson (R-ID), Chris Stewart (R-UT), David Valadao (R-CA), Steve Womack (R-AR), David Young (R-IA).

Not voting: 

Henry Cuellar (D-TX), John Culberson (R-TX), Chaka Fattah (D-PA).

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Recognizing Humane Legislators on Capitol Hill

Last night the Humane Society Legislative Fund and The Humane Society of the United States hosted our annual congressional Humane Awards, where we honored a bipartisan group of lawmakers who led the way for animals during the last year. More than 50 Senators and Representatives plus staff members from dozens of additional offices attended the event in the U.S. Capitol, as we celebrated the federal lawmakers who are leading the way to make the world a better place for animals.

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Photo courtesy of Bill Petros
Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M, recipient of the 2015
Humane Legislator of the Year, pictured with Wayne Pacelle,
President & CEO of The HSUS.

The top awards went to Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., and Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., who were honored as the 2015 Humane Legislators of the Year. The Humane Legislator of the Year award recognizes federal lawmakers who have initiated path-breaking animal protection legislation and demonstrably advanced reform in the policy-making arena.

In 2015, Sen. Udall led the effort—with Sens. David Vitter and Cory Booker—to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act, including provisions to reduce, if not eliminate, the use of animals in chemical testing. He successfully offered the amendment in the Senate Appropriations Committee to restore “defund” language that’s kept horse slaughter plants from reopening on U.S. soil. As the top Democrat on the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, he helped fend off anti-wildlife riders that would have weakened the Endangered Species Act, stripped wolves of federal protections, and blocked efforts to combat wildlife trafficking and the poaching of elephants for the ivory trade. Udall is also a leading voice for reforms in the horse racing industry to crack down on rampant doping. He played a key role in obtaining strong provisions to require all federal agriculture research facilities to meet animal welfare standards, and he set the stage for the decision by the National Institutes of Health to end the use of all chimpanzees in laboratory experiments and retire them to sanctuaries. This is simply a breathtaking set of accomplishments and activities.

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Photo courtesy of Bill Petros
Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., recipient of the
2015 Humane Legislator of the Year,
pictured with Wayne Pacelle.

Rep. Buchanan also was active on such a diverse set of policy reforms. He led efforts to protect manatees from extinction, challenging the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s decision to downgrade the species from endangered to threatened status. He is the co-author of the Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act to stop horse slaughter for human consumption, and he voiced support for the appropriations “defund” language and opposition to the Bureau of Land Management’s sale and transport of nearly 1,800 wild horses to slaughter. In the wake of the tragic killing of Cecil the lion, he urged the Department of Interior to list African lions as endangered, and the agency issued a strong final rule to prevent imports of most lion trophies. He co-authored the Animal Welfare in Agricultural Research (AWARE) Act to provide animal care standards for farm animals used in federal agricultural research. And he opposed repeated legislative attacks against the Endangered Species Act and against the proposed rule to crack down on illegal ivory trafficking.

Vitter
Photo courtesy of Bill Petros
Sen. David Vitter, R-La., recipient of a Lifetime
Achievement Award, pictured with Wayne Pacelle.

In addition to the top awards for Sen. Udall and Rep. Buchanan, we honored four retiring lawmakers with Lifetime Achievement Awards for their career-long dedication and accomplishments on a wide range of animal protection issues. The awards went to Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., and David Vitter, R-La., and Rep. Sam Farr D-Calif.

Among the many issues these leaders spearheaded over the years, Sens. Boxer and Vitter teamed up annually securing needed funds for the enforcement of key animal welfare laws such as the Animal Welfare Act, Horse Protection Act, and Humane Methods of Slaughter Act and implementation of programs to protect pets in disasters and ease the shortage of veterinarians in underserved areas.

Farr
Photo courtesy of Bill Petros
Rep. Sam Farr D-Calif., recipient of a 
Lifetime Achievement award, pictured with Wayne Pacelle
and Michael Markarian, President of HSLF.

They also co-authored the Captive Primate Safety Act to crack down on the trade in primates as exotic pets. Sen. Vitter and Rep. Farr were sponsors of the Puppy Uniform Protection and Safety (PUPS) Act to require licensing and inspections of puppy mills selling directly to the public over the Internet, which set the stage for USDA regulation of Internet puppy sellers. With Sen. Mikulski as the top Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee, and Rep. Farr as the top Democrat on the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, they both had outstanding pivotal roles on a host of animal protection concerns, including keeping horse slaughter plants from reopening on U.S. soil, requiring humane treatment of farm animals and compliance with Animal Welfare Act standards at federal facilities, significantly boosting USDA’s budget to oversee the AWA, and seeking to end the abhorrently cruel soring of Tennessee walking horses.

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Photo courtesy of Bill Petros
Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., recipient of the Legislative Leader
award, pictured with his dog Lily and with Wayne Pacelle.

These lawmakers all led on a number of other issues over the years, including Sen. Boxer fighting tirelessly for wildlife and environmental protection through positive measures and fending off harmful legislation, Sen. Mikulski sponsoring the SAFE Act to stop exports of horses for slaughter and helping to ensure continued retirement of chimpanzees into sanctuary, Sen. Vitter advocating for TSCA reform to phase out chemical testing on animals and passing legislation to ban animal fighting spectators and to require labeling of fur-trimmed apparel, and Rep. Farr sponsoring bills to protect egg-laying hens in barren battery cages and performing elephants in traveling circuses. We are grateful to them for their service and their career-long dedication to animal protection.

Finally, we also recognized several other lawmakers based on their leadership on animal welfare legislation and their ratings on the 2015 Humane Scorecard. In total, 181 legislators – 39 in the Senate and 142 in the House (representing 37 states) – received awards for their work in 2015. We’re grateful to all of these members of Congress who are helping to forge a path to a more humane future through their demonstrated leadership on animal protection legislation, and we congratulate them as recipients of the 2015 Humane Awards.

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Feds Tackle the Tiger Trade

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today finalized a rule eliminating a loophole in the Endangered Species Act regulations that has produced a crisis involving captive tigers across the nation over the past two decades. The elimination of the so-called “generic tiger exemption” will substantially increase oversight of captive tigers, kept in inhumane conditions at shoddy roadside zoos, funneled into the exotic pet trade, and dragged to shopping malls and fairs for photo ops and special events.

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JP Bonnelly/The HSUS
Alex was part of an exotic pet rescue in Kansas at a
facility that took advantage of this loophole. Alex is
happy and safe and now resides at Black Beauty Ranch.

Until now, tigers of unknown or mixed lineage, including thousands of tigers at roadside zoos and private menageries, were not subject to the same permit application and recordkeeping requirements as the approximately 280 tigers managed for genetic diversity by zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. That meant people could breed, trade, and otherwise use tigers without applying for a permit and undergoing scientific scrutiny, and the trade in generic tigers was left virtually unregulated.

Only about 3,200 tigers are left in the wild, but American roadside zoos, menageries, and exotic pet owners keep nearly twice that number. These facilities threaten the safety of our communities and impose an enormous financial burden on taxpayers, government agencies, and nonprofit sanctuaries like the Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch in Texas and Big Cat Rescue in Florida, which often have to rescue tigers from deplorable conditions. The new rule will help ensure that only properly accredited facilities engaged in legitimate conservation activities can breed and trade tigers, by requiring an ESA permit for such activities regardless of the tiger’s genetic lineage.

We benefited from the efforts of Republican and Democratic members of Congress who urged the White House to finalize the generic tiger rule. Bipartisan groups of lawmakers in both the House and Senate helped to push the issue forward, led by Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., and Sens. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Dick Blumenthal, D-Conn.

In another step forward for tigers, the U.S. Department of Agriculture issued guidance to its inspectors to start cracking down on public contact with infant tiger cubs and other exotic cats at exhibition facilities licensed under the Animal Welfare Act. While the policy only deals with cats four weeks of age or younger, we will continue to urge USDA to do more on this issue and to explicitly prohibit public contact with tiger cubs of any age, along with other dangerous captive wildlife.

Conservation efforts for wild tigers are undermined by the exploitation of captive tigers. Those who engage in these activities misrepresent tigers’ conservation status to the public and potentially even provide a supply of tiger parts for illegal international trade. Individual tigers also suffer tremendously at these unqualified facilities, where they are routinely bred to produce a steady supply of cubs for unsafe photographic opportunities and interactive experiences with paying customers.

The HSUS found terrible abuse during three undercover investigations conducted at such pay-to-play exhibits in the last five years. At the G.W. Exotic Animal Park (currently home to nearly 100 tigers) a juvenile tiger pounced on a young child and an investigator documented five tiger deaths in one month. At the Natural Bridge Zoo tiger cubs were deprived of food to make them compliant for bottle-feeding sessions and were punched and smacked when they exhibited normal play behavior. At Tiger Safari infant tiger cubs were deprived of essential maternal care, and both of the tiger cubs used for excessive public handling during that investigation died when they were less than two years of age.

These multi-pronged efforts to protect tigers have been years in the making, and a coalition of groups, including The HSUS and The Fund for Animals, submitted rulemaking petitions for the actions involved. The Obama administration has made positive strides with these important protections to end the exploitation of tigers, and we urge the relevant federal agencies to further protect animal welfare and public safety by cracking down on this inhumane and reckless trade.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Lawmakers Speak Up for Animals in Spending Bills

Against a backdrop of election year politics and partisan fights in Congress, lawmakers are moving forward to fund the federal government and all its programs. The House and Senate Appropriations Committees have been holding hearings and are preparing to mark up the individual bills designating funds for agencies including the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Department of the Interior, Environmental Protection Agency, National Institutes of Health, and others whose budgets have a direct impact on animals. 

Last year’s omnibus spending bill included a number of big wins for animals, and many of those same issues are still in play this year. We need to send the strongest possible signal to the leaders of the key subcommittees that animal protection matters. That’s why it’s so important that a bipartisan group of legislators has stepped up to request needed provisions and oppose harmful riders. Here are some highlights:

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Jennifer Kunz/The HSUS

Animal Welfare Enforcement Funding: 169 Representatives and 38 Senators requested funds for USDA to enforce key animal welfare laws including the Animal Welfare Act, Horse Protection Act, Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, and federal animal fighting law, as well as programs to address the needs of animals in disasters and to encourage veterinarians to locate their practices in underserved rural areas and to take up USDA inspector positions. More Senators helped seek this animal welfare funding than last year, and it’s the highest number in the House ever since we began working on these annual letters in 2001. Reps. Chris Smith, R-N.J., and Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., and Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and David Vitter, R-La., marshalled the support of their colleagues on these letters. This multiyear effort has resulted in a cumulative increase of $185 million over the past 17 years for enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act, and a doubling of USDA inspectors on the ground and specialists to support them in ensuring basic humane treatment at thousands of puppy mills, research laboratories, roadside zoos, circuses, and other facilities.

Horse Slaughter: 96 Representatives and 23 Senators jointly urged inclusion of the “defund” language that prohibits the USDA from spending federal dollars on inspections of horse slaughter plants and keeps such plants from reopening on U.S. soil. Led by Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., and Reps. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., and Frank Guinta, R-N.H., these letters are also a considerably stronger showing than last year’s House and Senate letters seeking the defund provision. 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.

Wildlife Trafficking and Ivory: 86 Representatives and 17 Senators requested enforcement funding for various agencies working to combat wildlife trafficking and voiced opposition to any rider that would block the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service from moving forward on its proposed rule to crack down on illegal trade in elephant ivory. These strong letters were championed by Reps. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., and Peter King, R-N.Y., and Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del. 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. It’s simply shocking that some politicians are trying to block the Obama administration from cracking down on elephant poachers and ivory traffickers.

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Michelle Riley/The HSUS

Endangered Species: 73 Representatives called for robust funding to support the work of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service on Endangered Species Act listing, planning and consultation, species conservation and restoration, and recovery efforts. Two freshmen legislators, Reps. Don Beyer, D-Va., and Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., led the charge here on behalf of ESA protections. Recent polling shows that the ESA is supported by 90 percent of American voters. This bedrock environmental law that calls for science-based decision making has prevented 99 percent of species under its care from going extinct. We will also be working hard to defeat poisonous riders to delist species and weaken the ESA.

As the appropriators gear up to make their initial decisions on how to allocate resources among many competing requests and whether to include provisions that could help or harm animals, we hope they will heed the remarkable bipartisan support demonstrated in these letters, which reflect the broad public mandate for animal protection policies.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Veal Slaughter Plant Closed, Time to Finish the Job on Downer Calves

Catelli Bros., a veal and lamb slaughter plant in New Jersey, quietly announced this week that it will no longer slaughter animals. This is the same location where, two years ago, an HSUS investigation revealed abusive handling and inhumane slaughter practices, including still-conscious calves struggling while hanging upside down on a conveyor belt, calves being shot numerous times before reaching unconsciousness, a truck driver dragging a downed calf with a chain around the animal's neck, and plant managers twisting calves’ ears and pulling them by their tails. The investigation also documented employees shocking, hitting, and spraying calves with water. The exposé led to a weeks-long shutdown of the plant by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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Photo courtesy of Greg Latza/For The HSUS

The latest news in this story is a reminder, though, of unfinished business at the USDA: The agency has yet to finalize a rule, seven years in the making, to ban the slaughter of downed veal calves.

Unfortunately, what happened at Catelli Bros. was not an isolated case, but rather another instance of abuse and mishandling in the calf slaughter industry. Back in 2009, a similar HSUS investigation at Bushway Packing, a Vermont veal facility, revealed that calves only a few days old—many with their umbilical cords still hanging from their bodies—were unable to stand or walk on their own. The infant animals were kicked, slapped and repeatedly shocked with electric prods and subjected to other mistreatment. The USDA shut the Vermont facility down and the case resulted in a cruelty conviction.

The USDA should be commended for its swift response in both New Jersey and Vermont when these abuses came to light. But there is something even more important at stake, and that is the need for a strong federal policy to protect young calves and prevent and discourage these abuses before they occur. That can be done by closing a loophole in the current downed animal regulations that invites cruelty by allowing these animals to be slaughtered for food if they can be made to stand.

Following the 2009 investigation in Vermont, The HSUS filed a legal petition asking the USDA to require that calves brought to slaughter unable to rise and walk be promptly and humanely euthanized and excluded from the food supply. More than 50,000 people wrote to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack supporting the change. And last May, the USDA finally released a proposed rule to close this loophole.

Without a clearly-stated ban, current regulations create an incentive for workers to do everything they can—kicking, beating, prodding, and dragging—to force downed calves to slaughter. The proposed rule would reduce immense suffering and bring regulations for downed veal calves in-line with those already in place for downed adult cows.

In fact, one of President Obama’s first actions on animal welfare when he took office in early 2009 was to close a loophole that allowed the slaughter of mature downed cattle too sick or injured to walk on their own, in the wake of the Hallmark investigation that resulted in the largest meat recall in U.S. history and schools in dozens of states pulling ground beef off their lunch menus. Now, in his final year in office, President Obama can finish the job on this long-awaited rule and apply the same protections to young calves.

We’re grateful for the help from many members of Congress who encouraged USDA to implement this policy. In joint letters last year, 92 members of the House, led by Reps. Chris Smith, R-N.J., and Grace Meng, D-N.Y., and 14 Senators, led by Sens. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, and Cory Booker, D-N.J., wrote to USDA in support of the proposal and urged the agency to finalize this rulemaking effort as soon as possible to protect animal welfare and food safety.

It’s just common sense that young, vulnerable calves should have the same protections under the law already given to adult cattle. The USDA has acknowledged that this regulatory loophole needs to be closed, and it shouldn’t wait for another investigation to uncover even more abuses. Now it’s time for the Obama administration to take a consistent approach to animal welfare and to make final the rule and plug this downer loophole.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

HUD Needs a Clause on Claws

Public housing can be extremely difficult to obtain, with many families in need stuck on waiting lists for months or even years. For those with cats, the relief of acquiring public housing is quickly replaced by dread when they face an unthinkable choice: have their cat declawed or find kitty another home. Forcing tenants to declaw their cats is one of the most extreme pet policies on the books, and increasingly rare in apartment buildings. It’s not only an inhumane mutilation of the cat, but also creates a financial burden and takes choices about responsible pet care away from public housing residents.

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iStock Photo

A bipartisan group of 51 members of Congress, led by Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, is working to make sure that families and their beloved cats won’t be put in these situations. They wrote to Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Julián Castro, urging him to prohibit public housing authorities (PHAs) from requiring residents to declaw their cats. HUD does not mandate declawing, but individual PHAs may legally do so in their pet policies. The fact that some PHAs are forcing residents to choose between a costly, cruel mutilation or giving up their companion leads to a patchwork of inconsistent rules, and can be easily remedied with a change to current HUD regulations.

Declawing is a cruel, expensive, medically unnecessary, and painful procedure, involving the amputation of the last bone on each toe. Despite common misperceptions, declawing a cat is not analogous to a snake that sheds its skin or a tarantula that molts its shell. To put it in human terms, it would entail amputating a finger at the last knuckle. Moreover, veterinarians recommend it as medically necessary only in the most drastic circumstances, such as when certain types of cancer are present.

Further, declawing is an ineffective and often counterproductive method for protecting property. Left with sensitive paw pads, many cats develop other destructive behavior issues, such as biting or urinating outside the litter box. Instead of spending their time ensuring that all resident cats are declawed, housing managers at PHAs would save themselves considerable time and grief by instead referring residents to animal welfare groups that can provide residents with appropriate scratching equipment and behavior advice.

For the majority of people living in public housing, this policy serves as a de facto ban on cats as scarce resources mean that they can’t find other affordable, cat-friendly housing nor can they pay for the expensive declaw procedure.

With the growing public concern over the cruelty of declawing, the procedure has been banned in 28 countries including Australia, Brazil, and much of Europe. In the U.S., several cities have banned declawing, California prohibits landlords from imposing declawing as a requirement for residents, and the New York state legislature is considering a declawing bill in 2016.

This would not be the first time HUD has stepped in and banned PHAs from requiring veterinary procedures that are cruel and medically unnecessary. HUD regulations already prohibit PHAs from requiring dogs to be devocalized, and that existing policy could easily be extended to prevent PHAs from requiring cats to be declawed.

We are grateful to the members of Congress who are standing up for cats and the families who love them, and we urge HUD to adopt this policy swiftly. Without any legitimate property protection purpose, a formal notice to PHAs that they cannot force residents to put their pets through an inhumane, painful, and expensive procedure should be an easy call for HUD.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Political Progeny in the Limelight on Animal Issues

When it comes to the children of politicians, the less said the better. They didn’t sign up for this kind of media glare. Who deserves privacy more than kids?

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Sean Pavone/Alamy Photo Stock

But when they grow up and start making headlines as adults, for good or ill, well that’s different. The adult children of three would-be presidents fit that definition, on the topic of their treatment and concern for animals. 

Two of these political progeny are the daughters of leading American politicians, and they’ve chosen to enter the public arena and use their family names, money, and celebrity to make ours a kinder, better world for the creatures who are at our mercy.

Then, there are the sons of another presidential hopeful—two men who freely spend their share of a family fortune to travel the world and kill majestic animals, smile about it for cameras, cut off a tail here, pose with bodies there... the usual in-your-face arrogance of fat-cat trophy hunters who don’t seem to care much about anything but themselves.

"Dad, can I borrow a jet? I want to save some dogs." I can almost imagine the conversation as Georgina Bloomberg asked her father, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, to use his private Dassault Falcon jet to fly to Puerto Rico and rescue 10 stray dogs.

Because of the stray dog problem and lack of spaying and neutering in Puerto Rico, Georgina said on returning home with dogs in tow, they "don’t have a shot getting adopted there." After the first 10 dogs were adopted, she went back to Puerto Rico a few weeks later and brought back 56 more.

This was not some election-time stunt. Georgina has a well-established record as an animal advocate and has been an active, roll-up-her-sleeves volunteer for The Humane Society of the United States and other animal protection groups for years. A dog lover and avid equestrian, she’s taken on puppy mills, horse slaughter, and other issues.

Right now, Michael Bloomberg says only that he is considering a late entry into the presidential fray. For the time being, he must be proud of his daughter’s commitment. A few happy, and very lucky dogs have a new chance at life thanks to this remarkable young woman.

Since the 1990s, Chelsea Clinton has been making news in the global campaign to stop poaching of Africa’s majestic elephants. She has traveled to Africa with both her mother, Hillary, and father, Bill, and she’s spoken out forcefully for saving elephants.

The Clinton commitment runs deep. Chelsea serves as vice chair of the Clinton Foundation, where the Clinton Global Initiative announced an $80 million campaign two years ago to help protect the continent’s elephants, who are under merciless assault by ivory poachers.

"My mom and I both realized independently that we were facing a real poaching crisis," Chelsea told the Washington Post. "We knew we had to do something."

Bravo. What a call to action, eh? "We knew we had to do something."

That spirit of giving back and concern for animals stands in stark contrast, unfortunately, to the behavior of the Trump boys.

Maybe you’ve seen the dreadful pictures of the carnage wrought by Donald Jr. and his brother Eric when they went to Africa three years ago. There’s Eric proudly holding the limp body of a leopard he shot. Eric is standing next to his brother, and both are grinning for the camera like boys who got a full-size candy bar in their trick-or-treat bag. Oh and there’s Don Jr. in a macho pose, a knife in one hand and a severed tail of an elephant in the other—with his rifle resting on the carcass of the animal. What a trophy, huh? An animal’s tail.

Had enough? Well they didn’t. They went on to kill and kill again, recording it all in smiling, posed photographs. A dead Cape buffalo. A waterbuck. And there they are next to a dead 12-foot crocodile strung up by its neck from a tree.

Wow. The dentist who killed Cecil the lion might find himself looking up to these guys. Donald himself brushed off questions. The lads like hunting, he explained, and one of the boys "I would say he puts it on a par with golf, if not ahead of golf."

With their famous names and oversized fortunes, the two Trump brothers could have gone anywhere and done almost anything to help those who "don’t have a shot."

They took different shots.

They had an opportunity "to do something."

And this is what they did.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Big Cats in Captivity a National Crisis

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., today introduced the Big Cat Public Safety Act, S. 2541, which would restrict the private ownership and breeding of big cats in the United States. Enactment of this legislation cannot come soon enough, to address the national crisis of big cats in captivity and stem the tide of problems created by reckless individuals owning and breeding tigers, lions, and other big cats and putting the rest of society at risk.

Alex-tiger-300x200
Katie Birk/The HSUS
Alexander, the tiger rescued from a filthy and flimsy backyard
enclosure in Atchison, KS now resides at Black Beauty Ranch.

Most captive big cats are kept in inhumane conditions, pose a threat to the communities in which they are held, create a burden for law enforcement agencies and sanctuaries, and compromise global conservation efforts. For example, last September, a 10-week-old declawed tiger cub was found abandoned and wandering through a Hemet, California, neighborhood. A Las Vegas man has a 6-acre backyard menagerie crammed with nearly four dozen caged African lions, necessitating that county officials deal with ongoing safety concerns. A tiger and two cougars were among 11 animals seized in Atchison, Kansas, in 2013 after they had largely been abandoned in flimsy, filthy cages on a rural property. Eighteen tigers, three cougars, and 17 African lions were among the 48 animals shot and killed in Zanesville, Ohio, in 2011, after their suicidal owner released them into the community. 

Hundreds of big cats are bred every year at roadside zoos to produce a steady supply of cubs for temporary use in public photo-ops and play sessions, with the older animals dying prematurely from neglect, warehoused in small cages, sold into the exotic pet trade, or even killed. Two tiger cubs named Maximus and Sarabi at Tiger Safari in Oklahoma—the subject of an HSUS undercover investigation into the sordid world of tiger cub photo-ops—are now dead just more than a year later. A roadside menagerie in Ohio, accredited by the deceptively named “Zoological Association of America,” uses lion cubs for photo-ops with the public and has had the older lions slaughtered for meat. And at another Oklahoma roadside menagerie, 23 tiger cubs died over a period of 13 months—taken from their mothers immediately after birth when they most need her.

Big cats in the U.S. have contributed to nearly 350 dangerous incidents in 44 states since 1990. Four children lost their lives and dozens of others lost limbs or suffered other often traumatic injuries. Eighteen adults have been killed, and scores have been mauled.

Enough is enough. The people peddling tiger and lion cubs are not credible in their claim to the status of small business owners. They are perpetrators of abuse who are passing their costs onto the rest of us—the taxpayers, government agencies, and nonprofit animal sanctuaries that spend millions of dollars dealing with the cast-off big cats, and the families of the victims whose lives were lost due to this unregulated madness in our neighborhoods and at roadside attractions.

The Obama administration can take important and overdue actions on this issue, with a pending U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rule to substantially improve oversight of endangered tigers in captivity, and a petition to the U.S. Department of Agriculture to ban public contact with big cats and other dangerous wildlife. But Congress must also do its part, and Sen. Blumenthal’s bill would restrict the owning and breeding of big cats, with the exception of legitimate animal sanctuaries and professional zoos accredited by the widely respected Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA)—those with the resources and expertise to provide for their complex needs. The House version of the bill, H.R. 3546, introduced last year by Reps. Walter Jones, R-N.C. and Loretta Sanchez, D-Calif., has 57 bipartisan cosponsors.

Please urge your U.S. senators and representative to support this important legislation. You can find their contact information here. It’s time to take this decisive step to protect public safety before the next person is killed by a lion or tiger, and to greatly reduce the suffering inflicted on these creatures kept as exotic pets and in miserable roadside zoos.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

The Presidential Files: Who Trumps the Field on Animal Issues in Race for White House?

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie last week vetoed a bipartisan bill that would have put a roadblock in place in New Jersey for the next Walter Palmer-wannabee who wanted to slay a lion and bring his head back to the states. New Jersey lawmakers had overwhelmingly passed legislation to block the shipment of big-game trophies of lions, tigers, leopards, Cape buffalo, elephants, rhinoceros, and other endangered animals through New Jersey ports. Christie, however, sided with the Safari Club International, which called for a veto of the bill.

White-house-Sean-Pavone-alamy-blog
Sean Pavone/Alamy Photo Stock

The furor over Cecil’s death and the political debates it has inspired provide a powerful reminder that many of the presidential hopefuls, both Republicans and Democrats, have records on animal protection issues, and have taken either positive or adverse actions that we can and should examine. With the first votes to be cast early next week in Iowa and then soon after in New Hampshire, animal advocates of all political persuasions want to know where the candidates stand on humane issues. HSLF has not made any recommendations in the presidential race, but here’s a summary of what we know about the contenders.

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First, the Democratic candidates:

Hillary Clinton: 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 cosponsored legislation dealing with horse slaughter and animal fighting, as well as bills to stop the processing of “downer” livestock and to 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, and later through the Clinton Foundation, she helped to launch a major campaign to fight the illegal ivory trade and poaching of elephants, continuing her leadership on this issue. Earlier, as first lady, she often took Socks the cat along with her to visit children or senior citizens in local hospitals and to other events, and she wrote a children’s book on presidential pets featuring kids’ letters to Socks and the family’s dog, Buddy.

Martin O’Malley:  During eight years as governor of Maryland, O’Malley never distinguished himself on animal issues. He generally signed the animal protection bills sent to him by the legislature—on matters such as upgrading the cruelty law, protecting terrapins, setting up a spay and neuter fund, and ending breed discrimination against pit bull type dogs—but he never exhibited leadership or attentiveness on them. He is largely remembered by animal advocates for allowing a trophy hunting season on the small population of bears in western Maryland and never restraining the worst instincts of the state Department of Natural Resources when it came to trophy hunting and commercial trapping.

Bernie Sanders: Like Clinton, Sanders has been a steady and consistent supporter of animal protection during his time in Congress. As a House member, he earned a 58 percent on the Humane Scorecard for the 103rd Congress, 75 percent in the 104th, 60 percent in the 108th, and a perfect 100 percent score in both the 106th and 109th Congresses. As a senator, he scored 100 percent in the 110th, 112th, and 113th Congresses, an 89 in the 111th, and an 86 percent in the most recent session. It’s clear that Sanders became more active on animal protection during his congressional career, and his generally high scores attest to that.  In the current session of Congress, Sanders is cosponsoring legislation to protect pets in domestic violence, ban horse slaughter for human consumption, create a felony penalty for malicious animal cruelty, and crack down on horse soring abuses. He supported strong enforcement of federal animal welfare laws, and opposed the weakening of the Endangered Species Act. In previous sessions, Sanders cosponsored bills to crack down on abusive puppy mills and animal fighting, to restrict the private trade in big cats and primates as exotic pets, and to ban barren battery cages for egg-laying hens. He helped to lead the effort in the 111th and 112th Congresses to end the wasteful use of chimpanzees in invasive research and retire them to sanctuaries. Sanders was the first presidential candidate to publish an animal welfare statement, and it’s a strong and compelling one that demonstrates his concern for the issues as well as his leadership.

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The Republican field is much larger, and one of the candidates who has withdrawn, Sen. Lindsey Graham, had perhaps the strongest record on animal issues among Republicans. He is currently leading efforts in Congress to ban horse slaughter for human consumption and crack down on wildlife trafficking

Here’s some background on the remaining Republicans in the race:

Donald Trump, Ben Carson, and Carly Fiorina : Since they have not held public office before, there is not much to point to in terms of their philosophies or policy actions on animal issues. When Trump owned the Steel Pier in Atlantic City, he reportedly was involved in canceling an inhumane horse-diving act. On the down side, he has defended his sons’ trophy hunting of African wildlife, including giraffes, buffaloes, and even lions, and it’s remarkable, especially after the Walter Palmer incident, that the press have not pushed harder on Trump about his sons and their globe-trotting killing sprees for wildlife. Trump also recently lamented Ringling Bros.’ decision to phase out its performing elephants. Fiorina has the backing of millionaire businessman Forrest Lucas, who runs an anti-animal Super PAC and has spent lavishly to defend puppy mills, factory farming, and other cruelties; Fiorina did, however, post a video about her love of dogs so that voters could learn something of her personal feelings about animals. Carson has said little about animal welfare issues throughout his career, but he says  in interviews that he is mostly vegetarian, and in a 1990 interview with Vegetarian Times he shared his belief that “eventually there will no longer be a reason for most people to eat meat. And animals will breathe a sigh of relief.”  

Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and Marco Rubio: These sitting U.S. senators have had records consistently at odds with animal protection sensibilities. Rubio and Paul were among a handful of senators who opposed a floor amendment to ban attending and bringing children to animal fights, and Paul wouldn’t talk about the issue even after it became high-profile in the Republican primary in his home state between Mitch McConnell (who supported the amendment to crack down on animal fighting) and Matt Bevin, who attended a pro-cockfighting rally. Rubio and Paul each scored 28 percent on the Humane Scorecard for the 112th Congress; Cruz, Paul, and Rubio each received a score of 12 percent for the 113th Congress; all three have zeros for the first session of the 114th Congress. On the positive side, Rubio did cosponsor legislation to strengthen enforcement of the federal law against horse soring in the previous Congress (but has yet to do so in the current session), and when he previously served in the Florida state legislature, he sponsored a successful bill to strengthen the animal fighting statute. On the negative side, Paul is backing an alternative sham reform bill that would maintain the status quo for the horse soring crowd, and it’s basically just him, Sen. McConnell, and Tennessee Sen. Lamar Smith pushing that pro-soring bill. None of these Republican presidential candidates are cosponsoring any current animal protection legislation even though the major bills all have Republican authors.

Jeb Bush: As governor of Florida, Bush signed a number of animal protection bills sent to him by the legislature, but like O’Malley, never distinguished himself as a leader or an advocate in that office. During his tenure, Florida upgraded its laws on animal fighting, horse tripping, dog and cat fur, downer livestock, and pets in disaster planning. On the campaign trail, Bush has floated the idea of relocating the Interior Department to the West, and his Iowa Farm Team includes two past presidents of the National Pork Producers Council who have opposed animal welfare reforms in Congress and in the corporate sector.

Chris Christie: As noted above, Christie recently vetoed legislation to block imports of big-game trophies, although he had previously signed bills to crack down on wildlife trafficking by banning the trade in elephant ivory, rhino horns, and shark fins. As governor of New Jersey, Christie signed bills upgrading a number of animal protection laws on horse slaughter, animal fighting, pets in disasters, and other issues. He is most remembered, however, for twice vetoing legislation to ban the extreme confinement of breeding pigs in metal gestation crates, which had passed the legislature with overwhelming bipartisan votes. The issue made national headlines and was largely viewed as a sop to Iowa’s pork industry in light of Christie’s presidential ambitions. Christie has also been a booster of the state’s trophy hunting season for the state’s modest population of bears. In short, Christie’s record is mixed, where he’s taken some very good actions for animals but lined up with special interests like the Farm Bureau and NRA when it’s served his political ambitions. In New Jersey, one of the most pro-animal states in the nation, state lawmakers are pushing a number of reforms toward his office—some politically impossible not to sign because they are so popular, and others that stir the passions of trophy hunters, pork producers, and other animal-use interests he’s been courting in Iowa and elsewhere on the rest of the presidential trail.

Mike Huckabee: As governor of Arkansas, Huckabee sat on the sidelines and was silent during the legislative effort and ballot measure campaign to establish felony-level penalties for malicious animal cruelty. The policy was enacted after he left office, under the tenure of Gov. Mike Beebe. News reports also questioned Huckabee’s personal involvement in the handling of animal cruelty allegations against his son in 1998.

John Kasich: As governor of Ohio, Kasich acted swiftly in response to the tragic release of dozens of bears, lions, tigers, wolves and other exotic animals in Zanesville, setting a moratorium on the sale of exotic animals and advocating for the state’s first restrictions on the private ownership of dangerous wildlife as pets. Kasich has signed other bills sent to him by the Ohio legislature, upgrading the state laws on animal cruelty and puppy mills, and allowing pets to be included in domestic violence protective orders. He came into the governor’s office on the heels of a landmark agreement between The HSUS, the Ohio Farm Bureau, and Gov. Ted Strickland, and he’s generally done a creditable job of handling the provisions—including the phase-out of veal crates for calves, gestation crates for breeding pigs, and tail-docking of dairy cattle, and protections for “downer” cows—although there is concern that the state has not yet established felony penalties for cockfighting and may allow the expansion of a new battery cage egg-laying facility run by the notorious Hillandale Farms (thereby falling short, so far, on two elements of the eight-point agreement between The HSUS and the Farm Bureau).

Rick Santorum: Of all the Republican candidates still in the race, Santorum was arguably the most active on animal protection issues. He earned a 60 percent on the Humane Scorecard for the 108th Congress, and an 80 percent for the 109th. But more importantly, he was the lead sponsor of the Pet Animal Welfare Statute (PAWS) to crack down on large-scale commercial puppy mills, and held a hearing on the bill when he was the chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee’s Subcommittee on Research, Nutrition and General Legislation. He was also a leader in the Senate urging adequate funding for the enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act, Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, the federal animal fighting law, and other animal welfare programs. Santorum cosponsored legislation to establish federal felony penalties for dogfighting and cockfighting, cosponsored legislation to require the addition of a bittering agent to antifreeze and engine coolant to prevent the poisoning of pets, and voted to stop the slaughter of American horses for food exports.

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You can help put humane issues in front of all the presidential candidates and make animal protection part of the political discourse. Please join us at ChangePolitics.org, a new, nonpartisan, elections platform that allows you to ask questions about animal protection issues that are important to you, and “upvote” other users’ questions to give them a higher ranking.

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