Commenting Guidelines

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

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Arizonans Rally to Keep Cruelty Code Intact

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey exercised his first veto in office last night, and with a stroke of his pen, he nixed a misguided and dangerous bill that would have bifurcated the state’s anti-cruelty statute—creating one set of rules for companion animals and another, weaker, one for farm animals and horses.

Pig_crate_270x240
The HSUS

As I wrote last week, this power grab by Big Ag also would have taken away local control from municipalities and badly complicated efforts by whistleblowers to expose abuse on factory farms.

Gov. Ducey’s powerful veto message underscores the public concern for animal cruelty and the importance of including all animals in our social values and legal framework.

He wrote:

I know we all agree that animal cruelty is inexcusable, unacceptable and absolutely will not be tolerated in the state of Arizona. No animal should be the victim of abuse. Moreover, perpetrators must be held to account and properly penalized to the fullest extent of the law.

While the sponsors and supporters of this bill are well-intentioned, when changing state laws relating to the safety and well-being of animals, we must ensure that all animals are protected, and mindful that increasing protections for one class of animals does not inadvertently undercut protections for another.

The Humane Society Legislative Fund had endorsed Ducey in the Republican primary race, largely because of his positive statements and pledges on animal welfare and enforcement.

He published a policy statement during the campaign noting, “I do not support exemptions in our anti-cruelty codes for any class of domesticated animals. No animal should be the victim of unspeakable cruelty.”

Here’s a politician who stood by his campaign promises—taking on Big Ag with his action.The Arizona legislature’s sop to the factory farming industry, carving out exemptions for some classes of animals, was in direct contradiction to the governor’s position statement.

We are extremely grateful to Gov. Ducey for standing firm on this issue and ensuring that all animals, including those raised for food, continue to be afforded legal protections in the Grand Canyon State.

It’s also a testament to the importance of citizen action and constituent communications. Arizona Republic political reporter Yvonne Wingett Sanchez tweeted last night:

.@dougducey's office received 19,251 constituent contacts on animal cruelty bill. Of those 19,248 were against it; three were supportive.

That’s an incredible outpouring from citizens who care about the humane treatment of animals. Your calls, letters, and emails do make a difference.

It’s a big public policy win for animals in Arizona, but in the broader sense, it illustrates the importance of animal advocates being involved in the political process, taking action as citizen lobbyists, and organizing a grassroots political force at the local, state, and federal levels.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Big Ag’s Power Grab in the Grand Canyon State

Factory farming profiteers know that consumers and voters care about animal welfare, and they increasingly try to dress up their activities and business models as having the best interests of animals in mind.

Rooster-profile-270x240
The HSUS

They talk about gestation crates keeping pigs safe from each other—of course, if you lived your life in a closet you’d never get hit by a car, but it wouldn’t be much of a life.

They introduce “ag-gag” bills requiring anyone who documents or records animal abuse to turn such evidence over to authorities immediately. It sounds good at first blush, but in practice it prevents whistleblowers from documenting a pattern of abuse that’s not easily dismissed as a fluke incident. And so on.

Their latest gambit of deception is unfolding in Arizona, where the legislature has passed House Bill 2150, which contains some red herring provisions to give it the illusion of being pro-animal welfare. In reality, the bill would negatively impact the welfare of millions of animals in Arizona, and it serves no good purpose for the state, from any perspective. Among other things:

• It removes farm animals from the regular animal cruelty code and puts them in a separate code, where the industry can more readily weaken those standards in the future.
• It strips municipalities and counties of their right to promulgate stronger animal welfare protections.
• It would remove the crimes of “abandonment” and “medical neglect” for livestock and poultry, placing a heavier burden on prosecutors and law enforcement when they confront these situations.
• It has whistleblower-suppression implications that could prevent food safety issues and animal abuse on factory farms from being exposed.

As Linda Valdez wrote in the Arizona Republic,

Like so much of what Arizona's lawmakers are doing this year, the bill also weakens local control by prohibiting "a county, city or town from enacting an ordinance that relates to the treatment of livestock, poultry or animal husbandry practices that is more prohibitive or restrictive than current law."

This would prevent cities from banning backyard slaughter of animals. Nor could local communities step in to correct other animal husbandry "practices" that might occur across the alley from your house.

The Arizona Humane Society is among the many groups opposing this legislation, noting that all animals, including horses and farm animals, deserve humane treatment. The group wrote:

Even a child in kindergarten knows that cattle, sheep and horses are animals. However, under HB2150, livestock and poultry would be excluded from Arizona’s definition of animals found in our criminal code. Since they will no longer be considered animals, the 13 categories of animal abuse currently on the books will no longer protect these animals.

Arizona voters share this view and have sided with animal protection time and again in statewide elections to ban cockfighting, restrict steel-jawed leghold traps, and improve the treatment of animals on factory farms. In 2006, voters passed Proposition 204, banning the use of veal crates and pig gestation crates, with an overwhelming 62 percent of the vote, and it was favored in 12 of the state’s 15 counties.

For special interest groups to try to remove anti-cruelty protections for farm animals now flies in the face of what Arizonans want. It’s also an affront to the democratic process through which generations of Arizonans have sought to include animals within the protective ambit of their state’s laws and value set.

When Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey ran for office last year, he issued a policy statement outlining his views on animal welfare and enforcement, declaring, “I do not support exemptions in our anti-cruelty codes for any class of domesticated animals. No animal should be the victim of unspeakable cruelty.”

He was right. And he should veto this power grab by the state legislature that would gut the cruelty law with loopholes and exemptions, take away local control from municipalities, and put so many animals at risk. That kind of maneuvering has no place in a modern world, one in which the needs of animals have become a matter of serious social, cultural, and political importance.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Tiger Loopholes Put People and Animals at Risk

There is a crisis with captive tigers across the nation, and the Obama administration must do something about it.

By some estimates there are more tigers living in the United States today than there are remaining in the wild in Asia, because of federal loopholes that encourage reckless overbreeding and public handling of the animals. These tigers are kept in inhumane conditions at shoddy roadside zoos, are funneled into the exotic pet trade, and even dragged to shopping malls and fairs for photo ops.

Photo by The HSUS
Tigers are kept in inhumane conditions at shoddy roadside zoos, and are funneled into the exotic pet trade. Photo by The HSUS

While tigers are endangered in the wild, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service currently exempts mixed lineage or “generic” tigers from registration under its captive-bred wildlife regulations. Because of this lack of regulation the total number of tigers in our communities is unknown, and nearly all of them are held at unaccredited breeding facilities, substandard roadside zoos, pseudo-sanctuaries, traveling zoos, private menageries, and as personal pets.

The Fish and Wildlife Service proposed a rule in 2011 to close the loophole and regulate generic tigers, but nearly four years later that rule is still languishing. It’s time for the administration to act and give these generic tigers the same legal protections as purebred tigers.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, too, must prohibit the public from handling and having direct interaction with big cats, bears, and primates. In one of the most extreme cases of government being totally disconnected from the real world, the USDA has previously suggested that it’s acceptable for members of the public to hold and cuddle tiger cubs during a short window when the animals are between the ages of 8 and 12 weeks old.

This encourages the constant breeding of tigers so there’s a steady supply of infant cubs available for photos and interaction with the public at roadside zoos and shopping malls across the country. When the baby tigers grow up and become dangerous and difficult to handle, they’re dumped, with some ending up at sanctuaries and nonprofit animal welfare groups across the country that must then spend millions of dollars to care for them for up to 15 or 20 years. Far too many animals are in crisis because our laws still permit the private ownership and overbreeding of dangerous predators by reckless individuals—and it’s the rest of society, including government agencies and taxpayers, who have to clean up the mess.

In the last 24 years, four children have been killed and 66 have lost limbs or suffered other injuries in incidents involving captive big cats. Eighteen adults have been killed in similar incidents during that time, and many others have been mauled. To date there’ve been more than 330 recorded cases of dangerous interactions with big cats, with cases in almost every state since 1990.

The USDA has been considering a petition to close this dangerous loophole since 2012, but once again, it’s been years with no action. How many more tragedies will occur, and how many more millions of dollars will be spent caring for cast-off tigers, before the Obama Administration takes action? Closing the loopholes on generic tigers and public contact will make our communities safer, help animal welfare, and save taxpayers from footing the bill for this reckless trade. 

Friday, March 06, 2015

PAWS Act Would Protect Pets in Abusive Homes

Earlier this week, U.S. Reps. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) reintroduced a critical piece of legislation to help domestic violence victims and their beloved pets. The Pet and Women Safety (PAWS) Act, H.R. 1258, would amend the Violence Against Women Act to extend existing federal domestic violence protections to four-legged family members.

Only three percent of domestic violence shelters nationwide currently allow pets. Just like many pet owners stayed behind during Hurricane Katrina and put themselves at risk because they couldn’t bring their pets with them, many battered women remain in dangerous situations rather than leave a beloved pet behind with an abusive spouse or partner. The PAWS Act establishes a grant program so that domestic violence shelters can make accommodations for victims' pets, keeping endangered women and their pets both safe and together.

DOG_ISTOCK_000026445403_249425
The PAWS Act establishes a grant program so that domestic violence shelters can make accommodations for victims' pets. Photo: iStockphoto

Twenty-eight states have enacted pet protective order legislation, allowing courts to include pets in restraining orders that prevent suspected abusers from having access to their victims. But under these differing state laws, what happens when a domestic violence victim must go to live with family in another state where pets are not covered under protective orders? The PAWS Act establishes a national policy on the issue and encourages states to expand their legal protections for pets in abusive households.

Domestic violence and animal cruelty often go hand in hand. A seminal study in 1997 found that between 71 and 83 percent of women entering domestic violence shelters reported that their partners had threatened, injured, or killed the family pet. For abusers, harming or threatening to harm a beloved dog or cat is a way of exerting control and intimidation, trading on the victim’s emotional connection with a pet, and using that love as a lever to prevent an escape from an abusive and sometimes life-threatening situation.

Last year, a Campbellton, Fla., man was charged with aggravated animal cruelty after he severely abused the family’s dog. He chased the dog with a rifle, forced her onto the porch, and shot her twice. After he ran out of ammunition, he beat the dog with the rifle, and later with an ax, until she was dead. He was also charged with aggravated assault and domestic violence toward his live-in girlfriend.

In Amsterdam, N.Y., a man slit the throat of his girlfriend’s cat and threw the cat out a window. Two days later, he attempted to strangle his girlfriend.

The examples are endless and horrifying, illustrating a direct link between animal cruelty and violence against people. Those who torture and abuse animals are the ones most likely to physically harm a human family member.

The PAWS Act has 49 bipartisan cosponsors in the House, and is supported by a number of animal welfare, law enforcement, and domestic violence organizations. Please ask your U.S. representative to cosponsor this common sense legislation and help pass it swiftly. There is simply no reason to deny these protections to pets, and the people who love them. 

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Lawmakers Howl for Problem Solving on Wolf Protection

While some members of Congress continue to demagogue the wolf issue, calling for the complete removal of federal protections and a return to overreaching and reckless state management plans that resulted in sport hunting, trapping, and hounding of hundreds of wolves, 79 of their colleagues in the House of Representatives yesterday urged a more reasonable and constructive approach.

Led by House Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Ranking Member Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), the 79 House members sent a letter to Interior Secretary Sally Jewell asking her to support a petition by The Humane Society of the United States and 21 other wolf conservation and animal protection groups to downlist the gray wolf from endangered to threatened status under the Endangered Species Act, rather than removing their federal protections entirely.

Wolf
A threatened listing for wolves would allow more management without ceding control entirely to state agencies that have consistently demonstrated an overreaching and cruel hand in dealing with the animals. Photo: Alamy

“I have always strongly supported this Administration’s efforts to protect and conserve endangered species because the Fish and Wildlife Service backs up its decisions and actions with sound science,” Congressman Grijalva said. “Unfortunately, I fear that’s not the case this time. Gray wolves are still subject to intense persecution where they are not protected. They currently inhabit only five percent of their historical range and are clearly still threatened with extinction. This downlisting is the right way to make sure they get the continued legal protection they need.”

The group sending the letter included four Republicans—Reps. Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.), Mike Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.), and Chris Smith (R-N.J.)—and five lawmakers from the Great Lakes states where the wolf issue has been so high-profile—Reps. John Conyers (D-Mich.), Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.), Sander Levin (D-Mich.), Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), and Mark Pocan (D-Wis.). As they wrote in yesterday’s letter:

“The Service’s focus on removing wolves from the endangered species list not only ignores sciences but also poses a direct threat to the credibility of the agency and the long-term viability of the Endangered Species Act (ESA). It is time for a new approach for wolves that more closely aligns with those that have resulted in the successful recovery of species such as the bald eagle.”

“We view a legislative delisting as an extreme proposal that is at odds with the intent of the ESA and the wishes of our constituents.…Undermining the law and the Department’s credibility in this manner would set a damaging precedent and would cripple our ability to protect and recover other threatened and endangered species in the future.”

“As an alternative, we urge you to direct the Service to follow the science and the law and modify the June 2013 proposed delisting of gray wolves to instead downlist the species to threatened status. This approach would allow states significantly increased certainty and flexibility in managing wolves within their borders while also ensuring that the species can continue to recover in suitable areas.”

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.

We are grateful to these members of Congress for advocating for this rational, middle-ground approach that balances wolf protection with the practical realities of dealing with the occasional problem wolf. The Obama administration should embrace this compromise solution, and help to settle the issue and find balance in the wolf wars.

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

The Little Engine That Could Carry Pets

The first animal protection bill of the 114th Congress is on track and leaving the station.

wrote last month about the introduction of the Pets on Trains Act, H.R. 674, by Reps. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., and Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., and the practical impact this reasonable legislation would have on the lives of many pets and their families, especially in regions of the country where train travel is the most affordable or most convenient option. Today I’m pleased to report that the House of Representatives took up and passed a larger bill to reauthorize passenger rail programs and appropriate funds for Amtrak for the next four years, and included in that package is the provision directing Amtrak to allow pets on trains.

PUPPY_55741
There would be reasonable requirements for pet owners, such as keeping the pet in a kennel or carrier. Photo: iStockphoto
In a time of partisan rancor and gridlock in Congress, it’s especially encouraging to see a broadly supported reform that all sides can agree deserves to get out of the gate. When you can take your dog or cat on an airplane, and stay with your pet in many hotels, it makes little sense that you still can’t have a companion animal travel with your family on a passenger train.

Under the legislation, Amtrak would be required to develop a policy for people to travel with their pets, and to designate, where feasible, at least one car of each passenger train in which a ticketed passenger may transport a dog or cat. There would be reasonable requirements for pet owners who want to take advantage of this policy, such as keeping the pet in a kennel or carrier, traveling less than 750 miles, and paying a fee that covers the cost of administering the policy. The bill gives Amtrak the flexibility to develop the details of the policy to best fit the service and their customers. Just as you don’t have to sit in the quiet car if you’d rather  talk on your cell phone, you won’t have to sit in the car that allows pets if you have allergies or other concerns.

As Congressman Denham—who often travels with his 15-pound French bulldog, Lily—argued on the House floor, this legislation could attract new customers who previously wanted to ride Amtrak but opted for other travel arrangements because they couldn’t bring their pets with them. And it could be a profit generator for the train operator, as Americans are spending more every year on their pets and may want to take their best friend along on vacation or business travel.

Last year, in response to the awareness created by the bill, Amtrak launched a pilot program in Illinois to test the idea of allowing pets on passenger trains. As Congressman Denham said, “This legislation builds on the success of that pilot program and would help families nationwide save money and time in traveling with their pets while bringing in much-needed revenue for Amtrak.”

Now that it’s passed the House, we hope the Senate will get all aboard and pass this common-sense legislation, which won’t cost the federal government or Amtrak any additional funds, but will help millions of American pet owners and strengthen the human-animal bond.

 

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Guest Post: Some Veterinarians Barking Up the Wrong Tree

There are 23 million dogs and cats living in poverty in the United States, and their families often don’t have access to basic wellness services like vaccinations and spaying and neutering.  Low-cost clinics and nonprofit organizations are providing a critical public service for these pets and their families, who most likely would otherwise never get to see a veterinarian.

As Nonprofit Quarterly reports, some veterinarians and other trade groups like dentists are trying to crack down on nonprofits within their respective fields. This fight is playing out in Alabama and other state legislatures around the country, and today I’d like to turn the blog over to my colleague Dr. Michael Blackwell, whose guest column on AL.com makes the point that a rising tide lifts all boats in the veterinary profession.  

He is the former dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Tennessee, deputy director of the FDA’s Center for Veterinary Medicine, and chief veterinarian of the U.S. Public Health Service. Here’s Dr. Blackwell's take on the issue: 

Vet-with-dog_hslf_blog_270x240
The HSUS

Imagine trying to shut down a homeless shelter because it gives people a free bed for the night, undercutting business at the Best Western; or claiming that a person who donates free blankets is unfairly stealing away the linen market from Dillard's. Is a soup kitchen driving down sales at Applebee's? What about a doctor who volunteers at a free clinic for the poor—how dare he deprive the HMOs and insurance companies of those customers?

As absurd as it sounds, that's the argument some veterinarians are making in their zeal to shut down nonprofit and low-cost veterinary clinics for struggling pet owners. Unhappy with economic realities, some veterinarians are casting blame on the good-hearted souls within their own profession who work with animal welfare groups to make sure poor and financially strapped families have access to care for their pets.

By blaming nonprofits, veterinarians are barking up the wrong tree. They are seeking even more government regulation of one of the most highly regulated industries. In fact, what the veterinary profession needs is not more government interference, but more tolerance for free-market principles.

Rather than competing with established veterinarians, nonprofit organizations and low-cost services are reaching a new audience of pet owners and introducing them to veterinary services for the first time, expanding the overall universe of veterinary customers and responsible pet owners.

One program providing free spay and neuter and veterinary wellness services for families in poverty-stricken communities nationwide found that 83 percent of patients had never before seen a veterinarian. When these families see a veterinarian for the first time and have a positive experience, they may become lifetime veterinary customers.

A 2011 study by Bayer found six primary reasons for the decline in visits to private veterinary practices:

1. Pet owners are still feeling the impact of the recent recession, even while most veterinarians increased their fees during that period.

2. The number of veterinarians practicing companion animal medicine increased dramatically from 1996 through 2006, far outpacing the growth in cat and dog ownership.

3. Many consumers rely on Internet advice rather than a visit to the veterinarian.

4. The majority of cat owners do not take their cats to the veterinarian because they think it's unnecessary or too difficult.

5. Many pet owners still believe that regular medical check-ups are not needed and many consumers cite "sticker shock," thinking veterinary costs too high.

What wasn't on the list? The existence of nonprofit and low-cost veterinary service providers. These entities are providing a public service, helping to reduce the surplus of unwanted and homeless animals through spay and neuter programs, reducing the number of pets surrendered to shelters and euthanized, and reducing public health threats through rabies vaccinations, parasite control, and other wellness services.

Their work is reducing the burden on municipal agencies and taxpayers. Veterinarians working in non-profit clinics are still veterinarians and are subject to the same licensing, credentialing and oversight standards as any other practicing professional in the field. It's also worth noting that doctors who work with the poor or provide vaccines in developing nations are celebrated, not scorned.

Veterinarians who use their skill, talent and expertise to perform a public service that benefits society should be valued in the same way.

Lawmakers should reject the scare tactics by veterinarians who want to over regulate their own industry and push out veterinarians that are providing good services in the public's interest. It's time to pass legislation formally recognizing that veterinarians should be able to work for nonprofit organizations that help animals, just like they can already work for laboratories, farms, and other enterprises.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Politicians Crying Wolf

With fragmented populations numbering just 5,000 or so wolves in the lower 48 states—and so many of the survivors having lost family members as a consequence of traps and guns—these iconic canids face more threats to their survival than ever.

Last week in Washington, some members of Congress—led by Reps. John Kline, R-Minn., Reid Ribble, R-Wis., and Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo.—predictably introduced bills to strip wolves of federal protections. The legislators trotted out the same old false claim about wolves being “overpopulated”—a species on the endangered list that occupies less than 5 percent of its historic range.

Wolf_blog_270x240_alamy
Alamy
Wolves face more threats to their survival than ever.

Meanwhile in Lansing, State Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, pushed through a non-binding resolution in the Michigan legislature urging Congress to act, falsely claiming that wolves “increasingly endanger people and domestic animals” in Michigan. This from the same legislator who previously had to apologize on the Senate floor for telling a tall tale about wolves stalking children outside a daycare center, which never happened.

It seems these anti-wolf politicians will say and do just about anything to get their way, facts be damned. Of all of the large predators in the world, wolves appear to be among the least dangerous, with no known attacks by a healthy wolf on a person in the lower 48 states. Yet, a small subset of people in the United States still fear and loath these animals, more because of myth than fact or science. A number of lawmakers have rushed to be their mouthpieces.

The federal government delisted wolves in the Great Lakes in 2012, and in just three years of state management more than 1,500 wolves have been killed under irresponsible trophy hunting and commercial trapping programs through cruel and unsporting methods such as steel-jawed leghold traps, baiting, and hounding.

In Wisconsin, 20 percent of the population has been wiped out in just three hunting seasons, including the loss of 17 entire family units. The carnage would have been substantial in Michigan, but for our efforts in the state to suppress the kill in 2013 and to block it entirely last year.

What the states had been doing—in authorizing the killing of large numbers of wolves, mostly at random—was actually worsening the problem, not solving it. A peer-reviewed study from researchers at Washington State University demonstrated that random trophy killing and even killing of depredating wolves may not have the intended population control effect. In fact, it may even spur more wolf breeding.

Why would some politicians lament a failed management tool that never even worked in the first place, and try to legislate a return to this wildlife pogrom that is, at best, a psychological salve for the anti-wolf zealots?

Wolves provide enormous ecological benefits, like keeping deer and elk in balance. They remove sick and weak animals, preventing slow starvation, and limiting deer-auto collisions and deer depredation on crops. By controlling prey herds, wolves act as a sort of barrier to Chronic Wasting Disease and other infections that could cost the states millions of dollars to eradicate and in lost hunting license sales.

Wolves provide other economic benefits, too. Many small businesses now rely on wolf-watching tourism to support their rural communities and local economies. A 2006 study of Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming found that the wolf presence in the Yellowstone ecosystem created a $35.5 million annual revenue stream. In the Great Lakes region, the International Wolf Center, an educational facility in Ely, Minnesota, brings in as much as $3 million annually and creates up to 66 jobs.

These are the types of benefits lawmakers should want for their states and the ones they should encourage and applaud. And while wolves kill some sheep and cattle, these problems can be dealt with selectively in a targeted way, rather than a wholesale slaughter that targets wolves not bothering anyone in the forest.

The HSUS and 21 other conservation and animal protection groups have petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to downlist wolves from endangered to threatened status in the lower 48 states—a proposal that 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. This proposal is a rational, middle-ground approach that balances wolf protection with the practical realities of dealing with the occasional problem wolf, and it provides a reasonable pathway forward on what has been a controversial issue.

Congress and the Obama administration should embrace this compromise solution and reject the extreme efforts of some anti-wolf politicians to eliminate all federal protections for wolves by legislative fiat.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

All Aboard: Pets on Trains is Just the Ticket

Cassie was moving from New York City to Spring Lake, North Carolina, and she was devastated by the idea of giving up her five-year-old cat, Boots, who had been her beloved companion since he was a kitten. She was traveling to her new home by Amtrak, which still doesn’t allow pets, and Cassie couldn’t afford to fly Boots separately on an airplane.

Cassieedited
Matt Wildman/for The HSUS
Cassie and Boots

Fortunately, The Humane Society of the United States arranged a flight for Boots to Raleigh-Durham, and a volunteer rented a car to drive the cat 75 miles to Cassie’s new home. But many families, especially in regions of the country where train travel is the most affordable or most convenient option, are not as lucky.

You can take your dog or cat on an airplane, and stay with your pet in many hotels. But why can’t a companion animal travel with your family on a passenger train?

There’s a move in Congress to change that, and U.S. Reps. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., and Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., are working to get pets on board.

Yesterday they reintroduced the Pets on Trains Act, H.R. 674, which would require Amtrak, the national rail operator, to implement a pet policy to allow passengers to travel with domesticated cats and dogs on certain trains.

They pushed the issue in the last session of Congress, with Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., sponsoring a companion bill. Under the legislation, Amtrak would be required to develop a policy for people to travel with their pets, and to designate, where feasible, at least one car of each passenger train in which a ticketed passenger may transport a dog or cat.

There would be reasonable requirements for pet owners who want to take advantage of this policy, such as keeping the pet in a kennel or carrier, traveling less than 750 miles, and paying a fee that covers the cost of administering the policy.

The bill gives Amtrak the flexibility to develop the details of the policy to best fit the service and their customers. And it could be a profit generator for the train operator, as Americans are spending more every year on their pets and may want to take their best friend along on vacation or business travel.

Last year, in response to the awareness created by the bill, Amtrak launched a pilot program in Illinois to test the idea of allowing pets on passenger trains. As Rep. Denham said, “This legislation builds on the success of that pilot program and would help families nationwide save money and time in traveling with their pets while bringing in much-needed revenue for Amtrak.”

Rep. Denham is the chairman of the House Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials, and Rep. Cohen is a member of that subcommittee, which oversees Amtrak’s operations. Congress should take up and pass this common-sense legislation, which won’t cost the federal government or Amtrak any additional funds, but will help millions of American pet owners and strengthen the human-animal bond.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Did Your Members of Congress Make the Grade?

There’s a new Congress in town, but it includes many veteran members who are back at work on the Hill, too. We want you to know how those members performed on important animal protection issues in the last session, so you can either encourage them to keep up the good work, or let them know you want them to do better for animals this time around. 

Cardinal_winter_blog_milani
Kathy Milani/for The HSUS

Animals need every voice they can get this year. And yours matters so much. That’s why today we’re publishing the final version of the 2014 Humane Scorecard, which covers the full two years of the 113th Congress.

Think of the Humane Scorecard as a handy tool to see where your federal legislators stand on our movement’s key policy issues.

It demonstrates the level of support animal protection ideas hold in various regions of the country and with the two major political parties. It also helps us evaluate where we’ve been effective, and where we need to focus our energies in the months and years ahead.

Most directly, this scorecard rates legislators based on their cosponsorships of bipartisan bills on soring of show horses, primates as pets, horse slaughter, the treatment of egg-laying hens, and animal fighting spectators; their votes on legislation such as the Farm Bill and the Sportsmen’s Act with provisions that affect animal welfare; their support for funding the enforcement of animal welfare laws; and their leadership on animal protection issues.

We recognize the limitations of trying to judge legislators based on a few votes, cosponsorships and joint letters, and no instrument of this type is ever going to be perfect. Legislators sometimes must miss votes for unavoidable reasons such as illness or a death in the family.

Advocates should also consider such unrecorded matters as performance on committees, positions of congressional leadership, and constituent service. But our movement must strive for some objective yardstick to evaluate performance on our issues.

This past year we gave special weight to several votes on the Farm Bill because it’s a major policy vehicle that only comes up every five or six years. We advocated against the bill when it included the dangerous and overreaching King amendment, which threatened to nullify hundreds of state and local laws on food safety, animal welfare and agriculture.

We advocated for final passage of the bill after the King amendment had been nixed, and because it retained the ban on attendance at animal fights. We note that lawmakers had many reasons for voting as they did on this large package, but we felt it was important to score these votes with reference to our priority issues.

We hope the Humane Scorecard will be useful to you all year. If you’re a member of HSLF (I hope you are!), please enjoy the complimentary printed copy you’ll receive in the mail as one of your membership benefits. And please help to spread the word about the important things we are doing.

Here are some of the highlights from the 113th Congress:

  • A bipartisan group of 37 Senators and 108 Representatives covering 40 states, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia led as prime sponsors of pro-animal legislation and/or scored a perfect 100 percent—more than one-third of the Senate and nearly one-quarter of the House.
  • The average Senate score was a 45, with Senate Democrats averaging 64, Senate Republicans averaging 22, and Senate Independents averaging 69.
  • The average House score was a 47, with House Democrats averaging 79, and House Republicans averaging 21. 
  • Twelve Senators scored 100 or 100+. 
  • Four Senators scored zero.
  • Forty-eight Representatives scored 100 or 100+.
  • Seven Representatives scored zero.
  • The New England region led the pack with an average House score of 92 and an average Senate score of 80, followed by the Mid-Atlantic region with a House score of 68 and a Senate score of 61, and the West with a House score of 60 and a Senate score of 59.
  • The Rocky Mountains and the Southeast were at the bottom, each with an average House score of 31, and Senate scores of 26 and 30, respectively.
  • California, New Jersey, and Vermont had an average Senate score of 100.
  • In no state did both Senators score 0, though in Arizona, North Dakota, Texas, and Utah both senators received scores of 12 or below. 
  • New Hampshire and Rhode Island had a House average of 100, and Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont had House averages above 80.
  • No state had an average House score of zero, although North Dakota, Oklahoma, and Wyoming had average House scores in the single digits.

Special thanks goes to the following Senators and Representatives who took the pro-animal position on every scored item and earned extra credit for leading on one or more animal issues:

  • Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.)
  • Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.)
  • Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.)
  • Rep. Susan Davis (D-Calif.)
  • Rep. Lois Frankel (D-Fla.)
  • Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.)
  • Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.)
  • Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D-N.H.)
  • Rep. Denny Heck (D-Wash.)

For all the details, please check out (and hold onto) the Humane Scorecard. Use it to talk to your lawmakers about their grades for last year. If they scored high, thank them for their support of animal protection. If they didn’t, let them know you’re watching and you hope they’ll try to do better in 2015.

And if your legislator wasn’t reelected, let the new folks in office know that you and other constituents care about treating animals humanely, that you want to see common-sense policies enacted to protect animals, and that you’ll be keeping them informed throughout the year so they can do well on the next Humane Scorecard right out of the gate. 

We need your help, and theirs, to advance a mainstream agenda for animal protection in the 114th Congress, taking on horse soring, poaching and wildlife trafficking, animal testing for cosmetics, the trade in dangerous exotic pets, and other cruelties.

Get Political
for Animals




Powered by TypePad