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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Incredible Scam to Kill Inedible Wolves

There is more fallout from the Michigan wolf hunt scandal, in which state legislators relied on and trafficked in exaggerated and even fabricated stories about wolf incidents as they went about authorizing a hunt on the state’s small population of wolves. Nearly two-thirds of all wolf incidents in the Upper Peninsula occurred on a single farm, where the individual farmer baited wolves with cattle and deer carcasses. As John Barnes of MLive.com reported yesterday, that farmer, John Koski, has agreed to plead guilty to charges of neglecting the guard donkeys provided to him by the state and funded by Michigan taxpayers. Two of the donkeys starved to death and a third was removed due to neglect.

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Photo of wolves playing by John Hyde

As Barnes noted, “Koski received nearly $33,000 in cattle-loss compensation from the state. Taxpayers also footed the bill for more than $200,000 in staff time and other measures to assist the farm against wolf attacks, documents obtained by MLive.com show.” So here we have one farmer who pocketed tens of thousands of dollars, refused to use the fencing provided by the state, allowed guard donkeys to starve to death, and lured wolves to his property with a free buffet of rotting corpses. This was the poster child for Michigan’s “need” for a wolf hunt.

Politicians and state officials continue to point to wolf depredation statistics in the Upper Peninsula to justify their decision to open a wolf hunting season for the first time in four decades. But if Koski’s self-inflicted wolf incidents were removed from the statewide numbers, the true picture of wolf conflicts is miniscule at best. It’s one more example of state officials cooking the case against wolves: lawmakers and DNR staff have admitted that stories they told of wolves stalking daycare centers and staring at people through glass doors were false and never happened.

After voters demanded a say on the issue, state legislators went out of their way to end-run the people, handing off the decision on wolf hunting to seven, unelected members of the Natural Resources Commission whose collective opinion was in line with the state legislature’s view. These seven individuals are political appointees, and not accountable to voters. The sole scientist on the commission proved to be the only dissenting vote against their plan to open a trophy hunting season for wolves.

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Photo by MacNeill Lyons/National Park Service/AP

It is reckless to allow trophy hunters to kill wolves from the small, still recovering population of only about 650 wolves in Michigan. Hunters aren’t targeting problem wolves, but randomly killing animals in national forests and other wilderness areas. In fact, it’s already legal to kill problem wolves in the rare instances when livestock, pets, or human safety are or may be perceived to be at risk. This system works and allows for selective control of wolves causing any problems.

Wolves are an economic and ecological boon to the state, promoting tourism to the Upper Peninsula and checking the growth of abundant deer populations. Wolves help maintain a healthy deer population and cull weak and sick animals, preventing the spread of dangerous diseases such as Chronic Wasting Disease. Wolves also lower the risk of deer-auto collisions and depredations on crops. This can save humans lives and tens of millions of dollars for the state.

Responsible hunters eat what they kill, and because wolves are inedible, most hunters have no interest in killing them. Responsible hunters also don’t go for the use of painful steel-jawed leghold traps, hunting over bait, and even using packs of dogs to chase down and kill wolves—and all of that may be in store if the Natural Resources Commission decides to allow these cruel methods.

Koski’s plea agreement provides one more example of why Michigan’s wolf hunt is based on a pack of lies. The politicians and state officials apparently cannot be trusted, but the voters can. Join Keep Michigan Wolves Protected to help set things right and stop this abuse of power.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Key Senators Step Up to Pass PAST Act

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A horse at the National Celebration in Shelbyville in 2013, one of many wearing chains and stacks. Contact your member of Congress today and ask them to pass the PAST act.

The Senate Commerce Committee today approved, by a unanimous voice vote, S. 1406, the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act. The bipartisan bill, introduced by Sens. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., and Mark Warner, D-Va., has 51 cosponsors and is now ready for consideration by the full Senate. Its companion, H.R. 1518, by Reps. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., and Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., has 269 cosponsors in the House. We are grateful to all these leaders for their work to move the PAST Act forward, and to Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., and Ranking Member John Thune, R-S.D., and Senator Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., for their support in today’s committee markup.

For over half a century, Tennessee Walking Horses  have been victims of the cruel practice of “soring”—where trainers burn chemicals into the horses’ legs or injure their hooves, causing pain and forcing a high-stepping show gait. It’s already a federal crime, as Congress passed the Horse Protection Act in 1970 to end it, but the 44-year-old law is too weak and desperately in need of a upgrade to deal with a faction of the industry intent on skirting the law. Some trainers have spent their ca­reers “soring” horses, evading detection, and avoiding consequenc­es. The stigma of soring is killing this breed. That’s why the American Horse Council, American Association of Equine Practi­tioners, American Veterinary Medical Association, all 50 state vet­erinary medical associations, and many major horse industry groups support the PAST Act to strengthen the law and stop these animal abusers.

Some segments of the horse soring crowd have tried to breed confusion in recent weeks, by having “competing” bills introduced by their allies, led by Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., and Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn, and Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. But this Big Lick faction of the Tennessee Walking Horse world has had over 40 years to clean up their act and fix this problem. They haven’t done it. They’ve just gotten more sophisticated at inflicting pain on their horses, covering up the abuse, and working the political process to prevent anyone from getting in their way. The opponents of the PAST Act don’t represent the entire industry, but just those who are already breaking federal law, cheating to win prizes, committing terrible acts of cruelty and profiting from it.

They claim that horse soring is an exceedingly small problem and they have it all under control with their industry self-policing, trotting out various numbers to portray a high rate of compliance with the Horse Protection Act. But they’ve cooked those numbers using deeply flawed methodology. First, they count only violations found by their own inspectors—not those found by USDA when it does spot inspections. The USDA Office of Inspector General made clear in a 2010 audit that there’s a huge discrepancy between the rate of violations identified by the industry-selected inspectors and those by USDA inspectors, and the industry-selected inspectors are grossly undercounting violations due to conflicts of interest. According to the agency, 85 percent of the violations cited in 2013 were found at the small number of shows (around 20 percent) that USDA attended. Second, they mix in horses of all classes, instead of discussing the compliance rate among the horses actually affected by the PAST Act—the Big Lick horses. Big Lick horses account for the overwhelming majority of violations—according to USDA, they made up 94.2 percent of all violations in 2013 and 74 percent of horses randomly tested at shows attended by USDA during 2010-2013 had been treated with soring or numbing agents. 

These “competing” bills were designed simply to impede the reforms recommended by the OIG audit and incorporated into the PAST Act. They would codify the status quo of industry self-policing, actually making it worse by strengthening the hand of the bad actors who need oversight. They won’t do anything to eliminate the use of devices that the veterinary community has said are absolutely integral to the practice of soring. And they won’t strengthen penalties to provide a meaningful deterrent. 

As the Chattanooga Times Free Press said in an editorial, these alternative bills represent “a thinly disguised repeat of what hasn't been working to stop the abuse for decades” and are “serving to slow support for a new day and the cleaner, kinder display of a beautiful Tennessee icon.” Tell your members of Congress to pass the PAST Act to finally bring an end to the indefensible cruelty of soring.

Friday, April 04, 2014

Foot-in-Mouth Disease Strikes Kentucky Senate candidate

GOP Senate candidate Matt Bevin has offered a number of excuses, since news broke that he attended a rally organized to promote the legalization of cockfighting in Kentucky. He said he’s “never been to a cockfight, don’t condone cockfighting,” but stopped short of saying unequivocally that he opposes animal fighting or that he supports the enforcement of anti-cockfighting laws. Bevin also said he “doesn’t believe this is a federal issue, and the state government can handle it.” But the cockfighters at the event were advocating for the repeal of the state’s anti-cockfighting statute. The point of the rally was to overturn Kentucky’s weak law against cockfighting, so how does Bevin’s invoking states’ rights clarify his participation at the event? 

His latest claim is that animal fighting is an American tradition. “But it’s interesting when you look at cockfighting and dogfighting as well,” Bevin told Louisville’s WHAS News Radio. “This isn’t something new, it wasn’t invented in Kentucky, for example. I mean the Founding Fathers were all many of them very actively involved in this and always have been. These are things that are part of a tradition and a heritage that go back for hundreds of years and were very integral early on in this country. ”

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Photo by KRGV

Very integral?  Hardly.  While the cockfighters would have us believe there were fighting pits at Mount Vernon and Monticello, there is no historical evidence to support claims that the Founding Fathers were involved in animal fighting. There is evidence, however, that they actively sought to root out the cruelty, which they saw as frivolous and detracting from the seriousness of the Revolutionary War effort. The First Continental Congress passed legislation in 1774 to “discountenance and discourage every species of extravagance and dissipation, especially all horse-racing, and all kinds of games, cock fighting, exhibitions of shows, plays, and other expensive diversions and entertainments.”

Since that time, all 50 states have banned dogfighting and cockfighting, with dogfighting a felony in all 50 and cockfighting now a felony in 41. The members of the organized criminal network of cockfighters flock to the remaining states, like Kentucky, with anemic misdemeanor penalties, hoping that law enforcement will look the other way. They bring with them the associated activities of drugs, prostitution, and other crimes. It’s an underworld enterprise, and it’s still such a problem that the U.S. Congress has seen fit to upgrade the federal law against animal fighting four times since 2002, closing loopholes that cockfighters try to sneak through.

State legislatures around the country, too, are working to fortify their animal fighting statutes. Louisiana, the last state in the union to prohibit cockfighting, is now considering a bill to strengthen the law by upgrading the penalties and banning the possession of knives, gaffs, and other cockfighting weapons. It appears that Matt Bevin isn’t the only politician who is confused about cockfighting: Although the legislation passed the Senate Judiciary Committee and is headed to the Senate floor for a vote, Louisiana State Sen. Elbert Guillory, of Opelousas, said the bill interferes with “a legitimate sport known as chicken boxing.”

Whether some politicians invoke “chicken boxing,” “states’ rights,” or “American tradition,” these words amount to code for some form of decriminalization, so that cockfighters can still pursue their hobby without penalty.  The fact is, there’s no moral or rational justification for strapping razor-sharp knives and icepick-like gaffs to the legs of birds, throwing them into a pit and forcing them to hack each other to pieces, just for the entertainment of spectators who gamble on the fights and are titillated by the violence and bloodletting. There’s a difference between “liberty” and “license” and the cockfighters don’t seem to understand it.  Now, in Kentucky, there’s a politician who doesn’t either.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

Kentucky’s Bevin Courts Cockfighting Vote

Politicians running for statewide office are known to show up at festivals, parades, county fairs, diners, a variety of commemorations, and even funerals. But it takes a very special kind of candidate to be a featured speaker at a  cockfighting rally, of all places.

That’s what U.S. Senate candidate Matt Bevin did, when he attended an event Saturday organized to promote the legalization of cockfighting in Kentucky. Bevin, who is challenging Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in Kentucky’s Republican primary, said he didn’t know it was a cockfighting event, and his campaign told the Louisville Courier-Journal it was “a state’s rights rally.”

But it’s hard to imagine anyone accidentally stumbling into a cockfighting meet-up. Even the event’s organizers said there was “never any ambiguity” about why they were rallying, which was to advocate for making cockfighting legal. In fact, here are some of the ads promoting the event, which were circulated through pro-cockfighting Facebook pages and web sites:  Flyerforrally2

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There’s no hidden purpose here: Organized criminals want to repeal Kentucky’s already weak anti-cockfighting statute. We have plenty of evidence that they are brazenly breaking the law, strapping razor-sharp knives and icepick-like gaffs to the legs of roosters, throwing them into a pit and forcing them to hack each other to pieces—just so they can shout out bets and be titillated by the violence and bloodletting.

Bevin’s claims about not knowing ring hollow, as he is now parroting the language of anyone who defends animal cruelty but masks their true intent by speaking of “states’ rights.” His campaign spokesperson told the Lexington Herald-Leader his position on cockfighting: “Matt doesn’t believe this is a federal issue, and the state government can handle it.”

The fact is, both the federal government and the states have a big role to play in cracking down on this form of intentional, malicious cruelty to animals. A substantial share of dogfights and cockfights involve interstate transport of the animals and parties from multiple states. There are also instances where due to corruption, lack of resources or lack of interest, local agencies refuse to prosecute large-scale animal fighting rings. Michael Vick’s dogfighting operation was prosecuted by federal authorities when the local commonwealth attorney refused to take action. In the absence of a federal animal fighting law, which Matt Bevin apparently opposes, the Michael Vick case would never have moved forward. 

All 50 states now ban cockfighting, and it’s a felony in 41, though it’s still a misdemeanor in Kentucky. It’s now moved to an underworld enterprise, but it’s still such a problem that the Congress has seen fit to upgrade the federal law against animal fighting four times since 2002, closing loopholes that cockfighters try to sneak through. The latest upgrade to the federal law—to punish the spectators who finance the fights with their admission fees and gambling wagers and provide cover to animal fighters who blend into the crowds during law enforcement raids—passed the U.S. Senate three times before being folded into the final Farm Bill package.

Bevin’s primary opponent, Sen. Mitch McConnell, rightly voted for the animal fighting spectatorship amendment that made it into the final Farm Bill. That legislation was cosponsored by dozens of Republicans and Democrats, and endorsed by the National Sheriffs’ Association, the Fraternal Order of Police, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, and more than 300 individual sheriffs and police departments across the country, as well as veterinary, animal welfare, and other groups. The only people on the other side? Illegal animal fighters.

There’s still a small and active group of cockfighters out there, but most politicians have left them behind, as society itself has done. Now, they are flocking to the remaining few states with weak misdemeanor penalties, like Kentucky, where they hope they can get away with a slap on the wrist, while the window is surely closing upon them. Matt Bevin showed appalling judgment in associating himself with this band of lawbreakers and perpetrators of unspeakable animal cruelty.  He’s brought discredit upon the state of Kentucky, and he should withdraw from the Senate race.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Buck Fever: Captive Hunting Industry Threatens Wildlife, Taxpayers

An 18-month investigation by The Indianapolis Star, led by reporter and lifelong hunter Ryan Sabalow, has pulled back the curtain on the captive hunting industry in the United States. The remarkable four-part series, “Buck Fever,” exposes the breeding of “Frankenstein” deer with monstrous racks sold for tens of thousands of dollars and shot at fenced hunting preserves, the reckless practices that threaten native wildlife, livestock, and our food supply with deadly diseases, and the cost to taxpayers for multi-million dollar government eradication efforts.

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A deer at a captive hunting ranch looks through the fence

The report notes that chronic wasting disease has been found in 22 states, first detected in captive deer herds before then being found in nearby wildlife. And bovine tuberculosis has spread from deer farms to cattle in at least four states. The evidence is overwhelming, with wildlife officials citing deer escaping from farms and blending in with wild populations, and researchers in Michigan setting up remote cameras along deer fences to document nose-to-nose contact between captive and wild animals. After CWD-infected deer were found on a Missouri preserve, others were found in the wild within two miles of the pen—but nowhere else in the state.

Hunters interviewed for the story rightly criticized the shooting of tame animals inside fenced pens, and this mockery of fair-chase hunting. At the Oak Creek Whitetail Ranch in Bland, Missouri, “one bull elk with a tag in its ear [was] lazily chewing its cud in a grassy meadow. It didn’t bother to turn its head as the Durango drove past…[The owner] paid about $4,500 to have the animal shipped in a few weeks earlier from a farm in South Dakota. He said he’d charge the client who put in his order to kill it about $6,500.”

The trial of one Indiana captive hunt operator included video footage of “a white-tailed deer with majestic antlers…dying of pneumonia, so sickly that a ranch hand had to poke it with a sharp stick to get it to stand. On wobbly legs, it toppled over in a snowy thicket…it appeared to be propped into a standing position, a branch through its antlers. A few yards away, a camouflaged hunter crouched in the snow, his rifle at the ready. A cameraman stood behind him filming the action, all part of a service for which the hunter paid $15,000. In the video, the hunter fires and the deer collapses, legs twitching in the snow…the hunt took place inside a 1-acre pen.”

Armed with the proceeds of these drive-through killing operations, deer farm operators are hiring lobbyists to try to roll back the minimal state regulations that exist. They are even lobbying Congress and the USDA for federal funds while seeking to relax disease control restrictions on CWD-infected herds. They want to be exempt from the Lacey Act, which has been used to prosecute deer smugglers. They want to be classified as agricultural enterprises to escape wildlife regulations, but don’t want to play by agriculture’s rules, which would mean food safety and humane slaughter guidelines.

How often do we see an irresponsible industry putting the rest of society at risk, seeking public subsidy, and expecting the public to clean up the mess they’ve created? The people who breed tigers and lions for roadside zoos and photo ops dump these dangerous predators into communities, threatening public safety and fobbing off the millions of dollars in costs for their lifetime care to nonprofit sanctuaries. The Burmese pythons and boa constrictors peddled over the Internet become established in the natural environment and wipe out native birds and mammals. The millions of dogs churned out by large-scale puppy mills cost unsuspecting pet owners in heartbreak and veterinary bills, and displace healthy dogs who would otherwise be adopted from shelters and spared euthanasia.

As The Star’s investigation makes clear, it’s time for tighter restrictions on the captive deer hunting industry. States should follow the lead of Florida which recently banned the import of captive cervids. And with the brisk interstate commerce in captive deer spreading diseases farther and faster, and taxpayers forced to foot the bill for disease outbreaks, this sweeping national problem cries out for federal action. 

Friday, March 21, 2014

State by State, the March of Progress for Animals

If you live in West Virginia, the days of having a tiger or chimpanzee in the house next door are coming to a close. Today Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin signed legislation making West Virginia the 45th state to set restrictions on the private ownership of dangerous exotic animals such as big cats, primates, bears, wolves, and large constricting and venomous snakes.

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A cougar next door? Tonka the cougar was a victim of the exotic pet trade. The person who bought him didn't know how to care for him. He arrived at The Fund for Animals Wildlife Center with diminished eyesight due to his improper diet.

Passage of the bill in the legislature was led by HSUS West Virginia State Director Summer Wyatt, who told West Virginia MetroNews, “With us being one of only six states with zero regulations that means zero caging regulations, zero insurance for these animals, zero veterinary regulations. That can get really scary for human and animal health.”

The new policy is a major step forward for animal welfare and public safety, and leaves just five states—Alabama, Nevada, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Wisconsin—with virtually no restrictions. We are redoubling our efforts in all of those states, until no state is a refuge for reckless individuals who keep dangerous predators in their bedrooms and basements and threaten the safety of the animals as well as the community at large.

Additionally, last week, South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard signed legislation enacting felony-level penalties for both malicious animal cruelty and cockfighting. It has long been a priority goal for The HSUS and HSLF to have felony cruelty statutes in all 50 states, and with South Dakota’s action, our entire nation now treats animal abuse as more than just a slap on the wrist. The bill also made South Dakota the 41st state with felony cockfighting penalties, leaving only nine states with weak misdemeanor statutes for staged animal combat.

The stage for enactment of this measure was set after a 2012 ballot initiative in neighboring North Dakota that we launched to make that state the 49th to adopt felony-level penalties for cruelty to animals. Voters there rejected the measure, but only after our adversaries promised to enact an even more comprehensive cruelty statute in the legislature. That bill was passed in 2013, and then with South Dakota remaining alone among the states, a broad coalition of stakeholders including veterinarians, livestock groups, and animal welfare advocates, got the job done this year. HSUS South Dakota State Director Darci Adams called it “a great day for South Dakota’s animals.”

It’s an even greater day when you think about the gaps in the legal framework that existed for animals just a quarter-century ago. In the mid-1980s, only four states had felony-level penalties for malicious cruelty, only about a dozen had felony dogfighting laws, and only about a half-dozen had felony cockfighting—which was even still legal in a number of states. And just ten years ago, only half the states had restrictions on the private ownership of dangerous exotic pets. Today, with felony cruelty and felony dogfighting laws in all 50 states, cockfighting banned in all 50 and a felony in 41, and exotic pet bans in 45 states, we are marching closer to the day when we have national policies on the most abusive and reckless practices.

 

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

A Humane Makeover for Makeup

Many consumers are surprised to learn that in the 21st century, lipstick, blush, and other cosmetics are still tested on animals. While many nations are phasing out animal tests for cosmetics, the issue still remains a real concern in significant consumer markets, including the United States. Now, members of Congress are taking action to move our country forward on an issue that has already been addressed by India, Israel, the 28 nations of the European Union, and the state of São Paolo, Brazil. U.S. Reps. Jim Moran, D-Va., and Michael Grimm, R-N.Y., have introduced H.R. 4148, the Humane Cosmetics Act, which seeks to prohibit animal testing for cosmetics manufactured or sold in the U.S.

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photo by iStock

In addition to animal protection groups like HSLF, The HSUS and HSI, the Humane Cosmetics Act is backed by a growing list of supporters within the cosmetics industry, including LUSH Fresh Handmade Cosmetics, Jack Black, Aubrey Organics, and Biao Skincare, as well as celebrities such as Jenna Dewan Tatum, star of Lifetime’s Witches of East End. These companies know that consumers want to make humane purchasing decisions with their dollars in the marketplace, and that an end to animal testing will not limit their ability to produce new and innovative cosmetics that are humane and safe. 

The Food and Drug Administration has regulatory authority over cosmetics under the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act of 1938. The law prohibits manufacturing and marketing of misbranded or adulterated cosmetics, such as those that might cause injury to consumers, and cosmetic companies are responsible for substantiating the safety of their products and ingredients before marketing. The act doesn’t stipulate how these products and ingredients should be tested, but companies typically rely on animal tests under guidance from the FDA.  It’s pretty clear now that animal testing for these purposes is no longer necessary.

These tests are primarily conducted on rabbits, guinea pigs, rats and mice, and can be painful and lethal for the animals. For example, rabbits are restrained, and chemicals are poured into their eyes or rubbed onto their skin to evaluate eye and skin irritation; rats are force-fed or have substances applied to their skin (sometimes also by inhalation) to measure how much it takes to make them sick or kill them. It not only takes a toll on animals, but also is expensive for the industry to administer and doesn’t always yield the best results. New advanced technologies for predicting human safety that partially or fully replace animal tests have been developed and validated and are widely considered cheaper methods that produce real safety substantiation. These non-animal methods will only continue to improve with time, and new alternatives will be developed, while animal tests will come to be seen as increasingly inferior in comparison.

With good alternatives and innovation to make tests faster, cheaper, and more reliable, every responsible corporate citizen should want to move in this direction and embrace the humane economy. The Humane Cosmetics Act would drive this innovation forward by phasing out animal tests for cosmetics and the sale of cosmetics that involved animal testing. Please contact your U.S. Representative today and urge him or her to cosponsor this important bill.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

How Do Animals Fare in the President’s Budget?

President Obama has now released his budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2015, to fund the government’s $3.5 trillion-plus operations, and the budget recommendations include several important provisions for animals. If ratified by Congress, these proposals will extend prohibitions on funding horse slaughter plant inspections in the U.S. and on sending wild horses and burros to slaughter, will continue strong funding for enforcement of animal welfare laws, and will dedicate new funds to combat illegal wildlife trafficking. But unfortunately, they will also take a step backward in one area by dramatically cutting poultry slaughter inspections.

Congress previously passed a provision in the FY 2014 omnibus spending bill to prohibit the use of tax dollars to inspect horse slaughter plants, which halted imminent plans to open U.S. horse slaughter operations, and the president’s new budget proposal would continue that ban for another year. Americans do not eat horses and do not want to see scarce tax dollars used to oversee a predatory and inhumane industry, which rounds up horses by disreputable means and peddles their doped-up meat to foreign consumers.

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photo by Jennifer Kunz

The president’s budget also includes good news for wild horses and burros inhabiting the public lands of ten western states. For years, ranchers have pressured the government to control mustang herds by rounding the horses up and adopting them out—but the pace of roundups has wildly exceeded the number of potential adopters, and there is a risk that the animals could be sold to “killer buyers” and sent to commercial slaughter for human consumption. The president’s budget, however, makes it clear that the Bureau of Land Management should not use funds to send these iconic animals to slaughter. It also includes a $2.8 million increase for the BLM’s wild horse and burro program, and the agency has specified that this additional funding will go toward research on population-control methods, which are superior to round-ups and will help provide a more lasting, humane, and cost-effective solution.

The administration also took another step forward to combat the threat of wildlife poaching and trafficking, calling for no less than $45 million for enforcement, which includes cracking down on poaching of protected species and the illegal trade of their related parts and products. Illegal trafficking and poaching have significantly increased in recent years, and last summer President Obama signed an executive order to combat wildlife trafficking and called for a multi-agency and international effort to address this monumental crisis.

The president’s budget proposes to sustain the same level of funding as in last year’s budget for enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act and the Horse Protection Act, to support the important steps being taken to enforce the nation’s animal welfare laws at thousands of puppy mills, circuses, roadside zoos, laboratories, and horse shows. Given the concerns about overall federal spending and cutbacks at some agencies, it’s important to hold the line and preserve these modest investments that yield such a huge return for animal welfare on the ground.

The proposal also includes funding to implement the requirements of the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act, the goal of which is to modernize the American food system and prevent recalls and outbreaks. Under the broad scope of the FSMA is a proposed rule on pet food safety, which would require better preventative measures to help protect the nation’s beloved companion animals from tainted and adulterated food and treats.

On the downside, the president’s budget proposes hefty cuts to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s number of poultry slaughter inspectors, in order to hand off significant oversight responsibilities to industry and implement new methods that will move slaughter line speeds up from 140 to 175 birds a minute. Already, reports show that nearly one million chickens and turkeys are unintentionally drowned in tanks of scalding hot water each year in U.S. slaughterhouses, and workers endure debilitating pain and crippling injuries. Speeding up the lines and removing inspectors will make these problems worse, and it’s another sop to a largely deregulated poultry industry.

When Congress takes up the FY 2015 spending bill, we hope lawmakers will move the ball forward for animal welfare by adopting the spending limitation on horse slaughter, supporting more humane management of wild horses and burros, and allocating the funding levels for animal welfare programs and wildlife trafficking. We also hope that they’ll nix the short-sighted and dangerous poultry slaughter rule, which threatens to make a grim situation much, much worse for animals and people.

 

 

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Close Encounters Between Cops and Canines

Dog animals & politicsNearly every week there are media reports of police officers shooting dogs while responding to calls, and some of these incidents go viral once captured by a mobile device or an officer’s dashboard camera. These events are polarizing for communities, pitting officers who protect and serve the public and may fear for their own safety against residents who love their dogs and are traumatized by losing a family pet.

Now, thankfully, there is a new resource available to bring communities together and to improve the safety of both dogs and law enforcement personnel.

At a news conference this afternoon at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., representatives of the National Canine Research Council, Safe Humane Chicago, the Chicago Police Department and the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services announced the launch of a new video training series for law enforcement agencies across the country.

Called “Police & Dog Encounters: Tactical Strategies and Effective Tools to Keep Our Communities Safe and Humane,” this resource gives police the necessary tools to keep them protected when they encounter a dog while on duty.

Stacey Coleman, executive director of the National Canine Research Council, which funded the project, said, “Police are the cornerstone of every community across the country, and these brave men and women keep us safe. They are trained and prepared for dangerous and unfamiliar situations. But part of their training was incomplete—until now.”

The videos, which are broken into five 10-minute segments, are available online. They feature Chicago police officers in situations they routinely encounter on duty and dog behavior expert Brian Kilcommons demonstrating real-life scenarios with SWAT and street officers. The goal is to introduce options and strategies police officers can use to better understand and deescalate encounters with dogs to keep themselves and communities safe.

Police officers can’t be expected to be dog behaviorists, but giving them a set of tools to more accurately read and assess a dog’s body language—knowing, for example, when a dog is frightened, not aggressive—will help them do their jobs better. This is a great example of a public-private partnership to develop a constructive solution to a problem that has divided communities all across the country. We are grateful to the Justice Department and other agencies and organizations working to lift up the entire field of community policing and animal welfare, and The HSUS and HSLF are working to spread these ideas to the nation’s law enforcement community.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Sore Losers: A Bill for the Horse Soring Crowd

 

Twh-inspectionMomentum is growing in Congress to pass H.R. 1518/S. 1406, the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, legislation seeking to upgrade the four-decades-old federal Horse Protection Act (HPA) to stop rampant and intentional injuring of horses with caustic chemicals and other painful devices in the Tennessee Walking Horse show world in order to induce an exaggerated gait.  HSLF and HSUS are backing the bill, along with more than 100 horse industry and veterinary organizations and many others. Introduced by Reps. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., and Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., and Sens. Kelly Ayotte, N.H., and Mark Warner, D-Va., the legislation has the bipartisan support of 266 House cosponsors and 48 Senate cosponsors. Not many bills in Congress ever amass so many cosponsors – a solid majority of the Congress. 

 But rather than halt their criminal conduct within their industry and support efforts to strengthen the law so that it will serve as a meaningful deterrent to people who torment horses to win ribbons at shows, some in the horse soring community have worked with a handful of lawmakers to try to maintain the status quo.  Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., this week introduced “alternative” legislation to the PAST Act that can be described as nothing but a get-out-of-jail-free card to those who perpetrate the cruel practice of soring. 

Not only does H.R. 4098 contain none of the important reforms needed to crack down on soring, but it would set back these efforts by weakening the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s already-limited authority and handing off power to the perpetrators.  Unlike the PAST Act, Rep. Blackburn’s bill does nothing to strengthen the weak penalties that have failed to act as a deterrent to soring, and would continue to allow the use of chains, stacks, and other action devices that cause pain to horses’ legs and hooves—identified by the American Veterinary Medical Association and American Association of Equine Practitioners as an integral part of the soring process.  

As acknowledged by the USDA Office of Inspector General’s 2010 audit of the Horse Protection Program, the corrupt self-regulation of the industry is the key factor that has allowed the abuse to fester and thrive in the Big Lick show circuit: Blackburn’s bill perpetuates—and in fact, codifies—this arrangement.  H.R. 4098 would eliminate the few Horse Industry Organizations (HIOs) now trying to end soring (allowing only sound horses at their shows), and institute instead a single HIO born right out of the same groups that have let soring run rampant for decades.  The bill allows the Walking Horse Trainers’ Association to help select the board of the “new” HIO: the same association whose 2014 seven-member board of directors’ boasts at least 112 citations for soring and related offenses.  One of those members has 38 known citations for violation of the Horse Protection Act.  Soring is never going to stop when the sorers are in charge of enforcement; that’s why the PAST Act gives the USDA the authority it needs to license, train, assign, and oversee independent inspectors. 

Blackburn’s bill completely fails to address the stacked shoes and chains, even though 93% of violations of the Horse Protection Act involve Big Lick horses who are subjected to these devices.  The chains exacerbate the effects of chemical soring by striking and rubbing on sensitized pasterns, and stacks unnaturally alter the angle of the foot and can be used to conceal foreign objects—all to cause enough pain to create the desired high step.  The American Veterinary Medical Association and the American Association of Equine Practitioners have called for the elimination of stacks and chains from the Big Lick show ring as a prerequisite to ending soring.  The PAST Act bans them; this so-called alternative doesn’t even mention them. 

H.R. 4098 is another thinly disguised effort to codify the failed industry self-policing scheme that has allowed soring to continue unabated.  The answer to this problem, backed by an unusually broad and diverse group of horse industry, veterinary, and animal welfare organizations, as well as more than half the House and nearly half the Senate, is to pass the PAST Act, H.R. 1518/S. 1406. Contact your members of Congress today and tell them this real reform legislation is sorely needed.

 

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