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Thursday, November 09, 2017

Greyhound racing is a bad bet in Florida

For most Americans, dogs are loving companions and family members. But there’s a small and dying industry, hanging on by a thread, that crams dogs into cages for most of their lives, and forces them to run on tracks for entertainment and gambling, sustaining broken bones, heart attacks, drug overdoses, and other injuries.

Greyhound
Denise McFadden/GREY2K USA

It’s greyhound racing, and it’s on its last legs. In the last decade and a half, more than two dozen dog tracks have closed all across the country, and dog racing now represents less than one percent of all wagers placed each year in the United States. It’s clear that American consumers have moved on to other forms of entertainment.

But Florida is its last bastion, with 12 of the remaining 18 tracks nationwide located in the Sunshine State. Now, there is a renewed effort to relegate dog racing to Florida’s history books. Florida State Senator, and past Senate President, Tom Lee, and former State Senate President Don Gaetz, both Republicans, have introduced a constitutional amendment to phase out greyhound racing over three years and to remove the current state requirement forcing casinos to run dog races if they want to operate other forms of gambling. If the proposed amendment is approved by the Florida Constitution Revision Commission, the language will appear on the 2018 ballot, allowing Floridians to have the final say on the matter. They have already been voting with their dollars, but it may take a vote at the ballot box to end this cruelty for good.

It should be an open and shut case. Why should the government force a private business to offer a form of gambling that consumers are not interested in? And why do that when it causes dogs to suffer horrible injuries? Currently, the state dog racing mandate forces casinos to offer live racing as a “loss leader” for more viable forms of betting, at a significant cost to both taxpayers and track operators, and conflicting with free market principles. In 2015, Florida tracks lost a combined $31 million on greyhound racing.

Despite Florida’s being one of two states where dog injuries do not have to be reported to the public, some compelling data has trickled out. Dogs euthanized after falling during a race and breaking their backs or multiple leg bones. Dogs falling into the track fences and being electrocuted. At Ebro Greyhound Park, 30 greyhounds suffered “substantial” injuries and ten greyhounds were euthanized in a six-week period between May 21 and July 5, 2011. In 2013, the reporting of dog deaths did become mandatory, and between May 31, 2013 and December 31, 2016, a racing greyhound died every three days on average in the state.

Even if dogs don’t end up injured or dead, they suffer from extended confinement and cases of severe neglect. Dogs at the tracks are confined for 20 to 23 hours a day, in cages too small for them to stand up normally. Since 2008, state investigators have documented at least eight cases of severe neglect and cruelty at Florida dog tracks and associated kennel compounds, including a 2010 case where state investigators found 37 dead greyhounds at a kennel compound and another five severely emaciated live dogs. A trainer in this case was charged with 42 counts of felony animal cruelty and pled no contest to 39 of them. He was sentenced to five years in prison for each count, to be served concurrently.

Just this year, two more cases of drugging dogs have been added to the long list of such violations. In one instance case, 12 greyhounds tested positive for a metabolite of cocaine in Florida, with one greyhound testing positive on six different occasions. The trainer's license was suspended pending another hearing. In a different incident, five greyhounds tested positive for a metabolite of cocaine including one that tested positive for cocaine itself. That trainer’s license was then revoked.

No dog should suffer such abuses. The industry is already dying a slow death, with the total amount gambled on live racing at Florida dog tracks declining by 56 percent between 2006 and 2016. State tax revenue from dog racing also continues to drop, with revenue declining by 81 percent from 2006 to 2016.

There is an overwhelming humane and fiscal case to finally put an end to greyhound racing. Now is the time to weigh in with the Constitution Revision Commission and give Florida voters the opportunity to choose a policy that’s better for dogs, better for business, and better for taxpayers. If you are a Florida resident, please participate in our Week of Gratitude for Florida Greyhounds and help protect these dogs from cruelty and abuse.

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Are your lawmakers making the grade on our interim report card?

Today, the Humane Society Legislative Fund releases its preview version of the 2017 Humane Scorecard for the first session of the 115th Congress. The Humane Scorecard is a snapshot of each federal legislator’s votes on key matters that affect the lives and well-being of animals, along with their efforts to help animals through cosponsorship of priority bills and support for adequate funding of animal welfare enforcement, as well as extra credit for pro-animal leadership. While the scorecard does not include every measure that relates to animals, it scores a cross section of key bills and votes on which HSLF has advocated and that significantly impact the state of animal welfare in America.

Capitol
iStock Photo

This year has seen redoubled attacks on animals, as reflected in votes to gut animal protection regulations and revoke rules that protect wildlife on federal lands from inhumane killing methods. The Humane Society Legislative Fund has been fighting hard to preserve existing animal welfare policies. At the same time, we have been working with members of Congress from both political parties to push new legislation.

For animal protection measures to advance, robust cosponsorship is vital. The more members of Congress publicly supporting a bill through cosponsorship—particularly when it’s solidly bipartisan —the more apparent it is to congressional leaders in both parties that the bill warrants consideration. Animal protection issues have long been bipartisan and that trend continues in 2017, with every bill scored having strong leadership and support from both sides of the aisle.

Already, for example the PAWS domestic violence bill has 241 House and 30 Senate cosponsors, the animal cruelty bill has 251 House and 28 Senate cosponsors, the horse slaughter bill has 192 House and 28 Senate cosponsors, the shark fin trade bill has 198 House and 20 Senate cosponsors, the horse soring bill has 268 House cosponsors, the dog and cat meat bill has 195 House cosponsors, and the cosmetics testing bill has 141 House cosponsors.

But this is only the first year of a two-year Congress. That means there’s still time to encourage your federal legislators to cosponsor these important animal protection bills if they are not already on board, and to press them to do all they can to help get these reforms over the finish line in the coming months. Please contact your U.S. representative and two U.S. senators to thank them for supporting any of the bills listed below that they have already cosponsored and urge them to join on any that remain. You can use our Find Your Federal Legislators tool, or call the Congressional Switchboard at 202-224-3121. Ask your friends and family to do the same; the more constituents your legislators hear from, the more likely they are to take action in support of animal protection.

The following section summarizes the bills whose cosponsors will count on the 2017 Humane Scorecard. Some bills may have counterparts in both the House and the Senate, while others may only be introduced in one chamber.

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The HSUS

Pets and Domestic Violence—S. 322 and H.R. 909, the Pet and Women Safety (PAWS) Act, introduced by Sens. Gary Peters, D-Mich., and Dean Heller, R-Nev., and Reps. Katherine Clark, D-Mass., Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., Jeff Denham, R-Calif., Rick Nolan, D-Minn., Mimi Walters, R-Calif., and Steve Cohen, D-Tenn. This bill will help protect battered partners and their pets by extending current federal domestic violence protections to include pets, and authorizing grant money to help domestic violence shelters accommodate pets (currently, only 3 percent of these shelters allow pets) or arrange for pet shelter. Many victims delay their decision to leave a violent situation out of fear for their pets’ safety, a legitimate fear considering that up to 84 percent of women entering shelters reported that their partners abused or killed the family pet. While 32 states have adopted similar legislation, PAWS would ensure such protections under federal law for all victims of domestic violence.

Animal Cruelty—S. 654 and H.R. 1494, the Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture (PACT) Act, introduced by Sens. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Reps. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, and Ted Deutch, D-Fla. This bill will strengthen the federal animal crush video law enacted in 2010 (which banned the creation, sale, and distribution of obscene videos that show live animals being intentionally crushed, burned, drowned, suffocated, impaled, or subjected to other heinous abuse) by prohibiting those same extreme acts of animal cruelty when they occur in interstate or foreign commerce, regardless of whether or not a video is produced. All 50 states have felony penalties for malicious cruelty to animals, and this legislation would complement these laws, providing an additional tool to be employed when extreme animal cruelty occurs on federal property or otherwise in interstate commerce.

Horse Slaughter—S. 1706 and H.R. 113, the Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act, introduced by Sens. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Reps. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., Ed Royce, R-Calif., and Michelle Lujan Grisham, D-N.M. This bill will protect horses and consumers by prohibiting the transport and export of U.S. horses to slaughter for human consumption. American horses are not raised for food and are routinely given hundreds of drugs over the course of their lifetimes that can be toxic to humans if ingested. Horse slaughter is particularly cruel, and the U.S. public overwhelmingly opposes it. Horses are shipped for long distances and are often seriously injured or killed in transit. At the slaughter plant, the methods used to kill horses rarely result in quick, painless deaths. This predatory industry doesn’t “euthanize” old, sick horses. Young and healthy horses are purchased, often by buyers misrepresenting their intentions, and killed to sell the meat to Europe and Japan. 

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Jennifer Kunz/The HSUS

Shark Fin Trade—S. 793 and H.R. 1456, the Shark Fin Trade/Sales Elimination Act, introduced by Sens. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., and Reps. Ed Royce, R-Calif. and Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan, D-Northern Mariana Islands. This bill will help fight the precipitous decline in shark populations, better protect sharks from cruelty, and preserve fragile ocean ecosystems by prohibiting our nation’s trade, both domestic and international, in shark fins. The bill will strengthen existing U.S. bans on the practice of shark finning—cutting the fins off a live shark, then discarding the mutilated animal to drown, bleed to death, or be eaten alive by other fish—just for a bowl of soup. It will complement state bans on the shark fin trade and reinforce U.S. leadership in global shark conservation.

Horse Soring—H.R. 1847, the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, introduced by  Reps. Ted Yoho, R-Fla., Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., Tom Marino, R-Pa., Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., Chris Collins, R-N.Y., and Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill. This bill will crack down  on the cruel practice of “soring,” in which unscrupulous trainers deliberately inflict pain on the hooves and legs of Tennessee walking horses and related breeds to force them to perform an unnaturally high-stepping gait in order to gain unfair competitive advantage at horse shows. Congress tried to rein in this abuse by enacting the Horse Protection Act almost 50 years ago, but rampant soring continues, as shown in a 2010 audit by the USDA inspector general and HSUS undercover investigations of top trainers and owners in 2012 and 2015. H.R. 1847 will end the failed system of industry self-policing, ban the use of devices associated with soring (including large stacked shoes and ankle chains), strengthen penalties and make illegal the actual soring of a horse—all without any additional taxpayer burden.

Dog and Cat Meat—H.R. 1406, the Dog and Cat Meat Trade Prohibition Act, introduced by Reps. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla., Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., Dave Trott, R-Mich., and Brendan Boyle, D-Pa. This bill will amend the Animal Welfare Act to prohibit the domestic slaughter, trade, and import/export of dogs and cats for human consumption, and provide penalties for individuals involved in the dog or cat meat trade. H.R. 1406 would prevent the dog and cat meat trade from taking hold in the U.S., serve as an important expression of unity with countries and regions such as Thailand, Hong Kong, the Philippines, and Taiwan, all of which have enacted dog and cat meat bans, and give the U.S. greater standing to press other nations to follow suit.

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Alamy

Animal Testing for Cosmetics—H.R. 2790, the Humane Cosmetics Act, introduced by Reps. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., Don Beyer, D-Va., Ed Royce, R-Calif., Tony Cárdenas, D-Calif., Frank LoBiondo, R-N.J., and Paul Tonko, D-N.Y. This bill will phase out the testing of cosmetics on live animals and the sale of animal-tested cosmetics in the U.S. Companies can choose from thousands of ingredients already known to be safe for humans. If companies choose to use new ingredients, animal tests are not predictive of the human experience so their results are unreliable for consumer safety. These tests on rabbits, guinea pigs, rats, and mice are cruel, and simply unnecessary since many alternative methods—which are more humane, faster to perform, and less costly to industry—are available to ensure that such products are safe for human use. More than 1.8 billion consumers live in countries that have already adopted similar restrictions, and more than 230 personal care product companies support this legislation.

Please take a few minutes today to help us save animals by voicing your support for these critical bills. Whether your legislators have scores of zero, 100+, or somewhere in between, they need to know that you care about their positions on animal protection policy and are paying attention to their performance on animal issues. Your efforts to engage them meaningfully on these subjects will produce ever greater returns for animal protection in the future.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Upgrading anti-cruelty laws across the country in 2017

Our movement has made so much progress over the last three decades in closing the gaps in the legal framework for animal cruelty. In the mid-1980’s, only four states had felony penalties for malicious cruelty to animals, only a dozen had felony dogfighting, and several states still allowed legal cockfighting. Today, malicious cruelty and dogfighting allow for felony-level penalties in all 50 states, cockfighting is banned nationwide with felony penalties in 43 states, and the federal animal fighting statute has tough penalties, including for training and possession of fighting animals, spectators, and bringing children to animal fights.

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Larry French/AP Images for The HSUS

We continue to march state by state to further upgrade and fortify the anti-cruelty statutes, improve enforcement, and close remaining gaps in the law where they exist. In 2017, it has been a particularly exciting year in state legislatures when it came to strengthening laws for abused and neglected animals. These laws range from outlawing animal sexual abuse, to prohibiting the chronic, cruel chaining of dogs outdoors, to increasing penalties for dogfighting and cockfighting. 

This year, The HSUS, HSLF, and our partners worked to make great strides on these fronts. Lawmakers outlawed bestiality in Nevada, Texas (as a felony), and Vermont. When we renewed our campaign efforts on this issue just a few years ago, bestiality was legal in eleven states—now that number is down to five remaining. Laws to help dogs outdoors were strengthened in Maryland with more clearly defined standards of care; in New jersey with shelter and standards of care requirements, and significant tethering restrictions; in Rhode Island with upgrades to shelter and nourishment requirements; in Vermont with expanded standards of care and humane standards for tethering; and in Washington with an impressive, comprehensive dogs who live outdoors/tethering law.  

Kansas and Oregon upgraded their cost of care statutes, putting the burden on animal abusers—rather than nonprofit organizations and taxpayer-funded agencies—to pay the financial cost of caring for animals seized from cruelty cases. Cost of care law was amended in Oregon to include hens and chicks in cockfighting cases. Nevada made some progress on this issue, ultimately giving counties the ability to recover costs of care if an “authorized person” is unavailable to care for the animal. Oregon expanded agencies’ ability to petition for custody of seized animals, and Hawaii humane societies may now petition the court for custody of seized animals prior to filing criminal charges against the owner.

Pennsylvania passed a comprehensive upgrade of its anti-cruelty statute this year, including making malicious cruelty a felony on the first offense, rather than just for repeat offenders (leaving Iowa and Mississippi as the only two states left without first offense felony penalties). Arkansas, Texas, and Wyoming increased penalties for certain cruelty offenses, and Oregon increased prohibition for animal abusers on future ownership to 15 years. New York bolstered its animal fighting law by making animal fighting a designated offense for an eavesdropping or video surveillance warrant. And Rhode Island made animal hoarding a cruelty offense, making it the first state in the country to outlaw hoarding. North Dakota was the one state that took a step backwards, with an added requirement for a veterinary recommendation before an agency may seize an animal.

There is a rising tide of consciousness across the country—in red, blue, and purple states—that animals should be protected from cruelty, and that we must have strong laws on the books to prevent abuse and crack down on the outliers. The HSUS, HSLF, and our partners are proud to have had a hand in many of these successes, and are grateful to the lawmakers who took on these big fights. We look forward to continuing this important work to drive transformational change for animals in 2018 and beyond.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

House committee takes aim at endangered species

In recent months, dozens of Republican lawmakers in the U.S. Congress, particularly in the U.S. House of Representatives, have been waging a hot war on wildlife. Last week the House voted to repeal restrictions on baiting of grizzly bears, killing of wolf pups in their dens, and other extreme trophy hunting methods on National Park Service lands in Alaska. This follows a similar vote in February that allowed these sickening and despicable practices on Alaska’s national wildlife refuges—pristine federal lands where wild animals should be safe from such threats and cruelty and where there are no human-wildlife conflicts to motivate control actions.

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Photo courtesy of hkuchera/iStock.com

Today, the House Natural Resources Committee is poised to expand this lethal assault by taking up a slate of bills that threaten to gut the Endangered Species Act. This package of dangerous legislation will prioritize politics over science and undermine our ability to protect imperiled creatures, both in the United States and across the globe, from the brink of extinction. Here are some of the bills on the docket today:

H.R. 3668, the so-called “Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement (SHARE) Act,” is a grab bag of anti-wildlife provisions put together for the trophy hunting lobby. It provides a sweetheart deal to help 41 wealthy trophy hunters import the heads and hides of rare polar bears they’ve shot in Canada. The animals were not shot for their meat, but just for trophies and bragging rights. It’s the latest in a series of these special interest import allowances and it encourages trophy hunters to kill rare species around the world and then wait for a government hand-out to enable them to bring back their trophies. Another provision would open millions of acres of federal public lands to painful steel-jawed leghold traps, killing and maiming mountain lions, bears, wolves, bobcats, and non-target animals such as endangered species and family pets.

H.R. 424, best described as the “War on Wolves Act,” would remove ESA protections for gray wolves in three Great Lakes states and Wyoming—just weeks after a federal court ruled that the delisting plan for wolves in the Great Lakes was illegal. This legislative attempt to subvert the federal courts amounts to Congress cherry-picking wolves from the list of threatened and endangered species, and all but guarantees that hundreds of wolves would be subjected to baiting, hound hunting, and cruel trapping practices. Removing federal protections and turning wolf management over to the states has led to politically-motivated, fear-based killing programs targeting wolves. In a three-year period, trophy hunters and trappers killed more than 1,500 wolves in the Great Lakes states alone, and that killing spree stopped only because of a successful legal action led by The HSUS. Left to their own devices in the past, states have authorized the use of strangling cable neck snares; cruel steel-jawed, leg-hold traps; and hounding with packs of radio-collared trailing dogs. It is clear that federal oversight is necessary to provide adequate protections for gray wolves as required by the ESA.

H.R. 2603 would strip ESA protections for foreign species held in captive settings in the United States, such as elephants, tigers, lions, leopards, rhinos, and chimpanzees. This innocuous-sounding and deceptively named “Saving America’s Endangered Species Act” could actually eliminate federal protections for imperiled animals—for example, by allowing the interstate commerce of elephant ivory, legalizing captive trophy hunting of African lions, and allowing laboratories to resume invasive experiments on chimpanzees in this country. Endangered and threatened species, whether native to the U.S. or not, desperately need as many protections as they can get. Removing protections for these animals under the ESA is nothing more than a nod to the trophy-hunting and wildlife trafficking industries, and sends a message that it’s okay to exploit rare and endangered wildlife as long as they’re not native to our country. 

A number of other Orwellian sounding bills are on the committee’s schedule today, from the “Listing Reform Act” to the “State, Tribal, and Local Species Transparency and Recovery Act” to the “Endangered Species Litigation Reasonableness Act.” They are all designed to chip away at the ESA, one of America’s most effective environmental laws and one whose reach is global. It serves as an essential safety net for imperiled plants, fish, and wildlife, and has saved more than 99 percent of species listed under its care from extinction. The ESA has seen such remarkable success because it relies on best-available science to make listing decisions, and empowers citizens to participate in and ensure adequate implementation of the law. We must not allow politicians to attack the very foundation on which the ESA was written.  

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Senate committee passes harmful anti-wildlife bill

While the U.S. Senate was largely occupied yesterday with the health care debate, one of its committees quietly passed an awful bill that puts wolves, eagles, and other migratory birds at risk, while giving a sweetheart deal to polar bear trophy hunters. The Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works passed the innocuous sounding “Hunting Heritage and Environmental Legacy Preservation (HELP) for Wildlife Act,” S. 1514, by a vote of 14 to 7.

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Photo by RamiroMarquezPhotos/iStock.com

The bill allows Congress to cherry-pick wolves off the list of threatened and endangered species, undermining citizens’ rights to use the federal courts and all but guaranteeing that hundreds of wolves are subjected to baiting, hound hunting, and cruel trapping practices. It puts bald eagles and other migratory birds at risk by weakening bird anti-baiting rules. It denies proper oversight of toxic lead in the environment, barring federal agencies from regulating lead in fishing tackle, even though alternatives exist. It’s a government hand-out to wealthy trophy hunters who shot rare polar bears in Canada and couldn’t otherwise legally import them into the U.S.

It’s a grab bag of appalling provisions for the trophy hunting lobby, and will cause immense suffering to wild animals. HSLF is grateful to seven Democratic senators who voted against the legislation. All 11 committee Republicans favored the bill in committee, and three Democrats—Tom Carper of Delaware, Ben Cardin of Maryland, and Tammy Duckworth of Illinois—backed it, even with the terrible provisions in it. There’s still time to kill the bill, and we urge Senators to do so. 

The following are the most harmful provisions that should not be enacted into law.

Wolves

1514 removes Endangered Species Act protections for gray wolves in three Great Lakes states (and also Wyoming, even though Wyoming already has management authority over wolves). This proposal would both subvert citizens’ rights to  judicial processes and undermine the ESA, one of our nation’s bedrock environmental laws. Removing federal protections and turning wolf management over to the states has led to politically-motivated, fear-based killing programs targeting wolves. In a three-year period, trophy hunters and trappers killed more than 1,500 wolves in the Great Lakes states alone, and that killing spree stopped only because of a successful legal action led by The HSUS. Left to their own devices in the past, states have authorized the use of strangling cable neck snares; cruel steel-jawed, leg-hold traps; and hounding with packs of radio-collared trailing hounds. It is clear that federal oversight is necessary to provide adequate protections for gray wolves as required by the ESA. The committee narrowly rejected an amendment by Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., to remove this anti-wolf provision by a party-line vote of 11 to 10. Eighty-one scientists submitted a letter in opposition to wolf delisting, citing the fact that they have not been restored to but a fraction of their historic range.

Lead

1514 also prevents the Environmental Protection Agency from limiting toxic chemicals, such as lead, in fishing equipment. Millions of pounds of lead fishing tackle are lost in aquatic environments each year, putting water and wading birds such as loons, whooping cranes, gulls, swans, geese, egrets, and herons, at risk of lead poisoning. Alternative metals can be used in hunting and fishing equipment, eliminating the need to poison millions of animals as a collateral effect of these recreational practices.

Polar Bears

An amendment to the bill, offered by Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, would roll back the Marine Mammal Protection Act and provide a sweetheart deal to help 41 wealthy polar bear trophy hunters import the heads of rare polar bears they shot in Canada. The animals were not shot for their meat, but just for trophies and bragging rights. It’s the latest in a series of these import allowances for polar bear hunters, and it encourages trophy hunters to kill rare species around the world and then wait for a congressional waiver to bring back their trophies.

Migratory Birds

1514 amends the Migratory Bird Treaty Act by sweepingly excluding vast areas of land from the definition of “baited area.” If an area is not a “baited area,” the Act’s standard prohibition against killing migratory birds does not apply. Already, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issues permits to agricultural interests on a regular basis to kill birds to reduce crop damage, making this provision unnecessary.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Abandoned puppy at airport highlights need for PAWS Act

A 3-month-old Chihuahua puppy named Chewy was abandoned inside a Las Vegas airport restroom two weekends ago. The heartbreaking note from Chewy’s owner highlights a critical policy issue that should be a call to action for lawmakers.

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Photo courtesy of Connor and Millie’s Dog Rescue
Chewy after being rescued by a Good Samaritan

The note read: "Hi! I’m Chewy! My owner was in an abusive relationship and couldn’t afford me to get on the flight. She didn’t want to leave me with all her heart but she has NO other option. My ex-boyfriend kicked my dog when we were fighting and he has a big knot on his head. He probably needs a vet. I love Chewy sooo much—please love and take care of him."

Fortunately a Good Samaritan found Chewy and got him to a local dog rescue, where he is recovering and doing well. But how many pets like Chewy are injured or killed in homes where there is domestic abuse? And how many human victims remain in dangerous situations rather than leave a beloved pet behind with an abusive spouse or partner?

In Congress, U.S. Sens. Gary Peters, D-Mich., and Dean Heller, R-Nev., and U.S. Reps. Katherine Clark, D-Mass., and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., have introduced critical legislation to help domestic violence victims and their beloved pets. The Pet and Women Safety (PAWS) Act, S. 322 and H.R. 909, would amend the Violence Against Women Act to extend existing federal domestic violence protections to four-legged family members.

In addition to providing greater protections for human and animal victims, the PAWS Act would provide grant money for domestic violence shelters so they can accommodate pets. Right now, only three percent of these shelters are believed to allow pets, presenting another barrier for victims who want to get help but don’t want to leave their animals behind and in harm’s way. But with the proper resources, many more shelters will be able to provide refuge for all members of the family who need protection, whether they walk on two legs or four. Had the PAWS Act been passed, it may have helped Chewy stay with his owner.

Thirty-two 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.

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Photo courtesy of Connor and Millie’s Dog Rescue

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.

A Campbellton, Fla., man, charged with aggravated assault and domestic violence toward his live-in girlfriend, shot the family’s dog twice, beat her with a rifle, and later with an ax, until she was dead. In Amsterdam, N.Y., a man slit the throat of his girlfriend’s cat and threw the cat out a window, and two days later, he attempted to strangle his girlfriend. Another woman was threatened while she was forced to watch her cat tied to a tree and killed with fireworks by her abuser.

All over the country, 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.

Chewy got away to safety, and so did the owner who loved him dearly. The passage of this legislation would show that Congress recognizes the seriousness of domestic violence and provides other victims and their families with the help they need. There is simply no reason to deny these protections to pets, and the people who love them. 

Contact your legislators today and tell them to support the Pet and Women Safety (PAWS) Act. 

Friday, June 30, 2017

Libre’s paw on Libre’s Law, Time for Congress to make a PACT

This week Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, surrounded by a swarm of animal advocates and lawmakers, eagerly signed a comprehensive overhaul of the Keystone State’s anti-cruelty statutes into law. The governor wasn’t the only one to sign the bill, however: Libre, a Boston terrier who recovered from a shocking case of mistreatment that rallied the legislature to take action, dipped his paw print in paint and stamped it on the bill, too.

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Photo courtesy of Governor Wolf
Libre signing his bill into law with the
governor and his mom!

A Good Samaritan got a glimpse of a severely neglected Libre and had the resolve to convince the owner to turn over the failing dog to her. From that point forward, two epic journeys followed: 1) Libre’s slow but steady convalescence, and 2) the inexorable advance of an anti-cruelty bill that had new vigor because of the dog’s painful circumstance. Libre’s plight touched the hearts of many Pennsylvanians who then called on the General Assembly to strengthen animal cruelty and neglect laws, so cases like Libre’s don’t go unpunished. 

At that time, the state’s laws did not carry penalties with suitable punishments for abuse, cruelty, and neglect committed against animals. Especially concerning to advocates of this bill was the link between animal abuse and interpersonal violence. Numerous studies have shown a substantial correlation between animal abuse and family violence. Animal abuse may present a risk of child abuse and be predictive of future violence or threats against other human victims.   

Pennsylvania had previously been one of only three states in the nation (with Iowa and Mississippi) that did not punish extreme and malicious acts of animal cruelty as a felony on the first offense—only for repeat offenders. The new legislation, known as Libre’s Law, closes that loophole, and also updates and clarifies the existing animal abuse statute. Penalties will be more clearly delineated among summary offenses, misdemeanors, and felony charges based on the seriousness of the abuse involved. Also, this bill provides escalated penalties for repeat offenders. This is a major victory and the most comprehensive animal protection package in state history, and should move Pennsylvania up from its current #18 spot in our annual Humane State Ranking.

While the states have continuously fortified their anti-cruelty laws over the years—with all 50 now having some felony-level penalties for cruelty, compared to only four in the mid-1980s—there is still no general federal anti-cruelty statute. We are working to change that, with the Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture (PACT) Act—S. 654 by Sens. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and H.R. 1494 by Reps. Lamar Smith, R-Tex., Ted Deutch, D-Fla.—which now has 16 bipartisan cosponsors in the Senate and more than 200 in the House.

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

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

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

With animal cruelty, too, most cases can be handled under the existing state statutes. The federal law wouldn’t interfere with those of the states but would provide an additional overlay when necessary. The bill has been endorsed by more than 200 sheriffs and police departments in 36 states and national groups including the National Sheriffs’ Association, Fraternal Order of Police, and Association of Prosecuting Attorneys.

It’s long past time that Congress empowers the FBI and U.S. Attorneys to deal with malicious and deviant cruelty on federal property or that crosses state lines. We know there is a well-documented link between animal abuse and other forms of violent behavior, and this legislation is a tool to combat this violence when we get a first look at it. We shouldn’t need some awful, personalized case of cruelty, and the naming of the bill after a battered animal, to stir us to do the right thing. Please contact your members of Congress today and ask them to pass the PACT Act.

Friday, June 16, 2017

The States’ Rights Elimination Act

With House and Senate Agriculture committee members beginning the elaborate process of assembling the next Farm Bill, we expect another protracted fight in Congress over states’ rights and animal welfare. However, a new bill introduced this week—H.R. 2887 by Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wisc.—is a radical federal overreach that overshadows anything we might have anticipated with a new Farm Bill debate. It could strip states of their right to protect their own citizens, and it represents the most serious threat imaginable to animal welfare protections. 

Cow-blog
Leandro Hernandez/i.Stock.com

If enacted, this measure would put dozens of state animal protection laws at risk, including measures dealing with the extreme confinement of farm animals, horse slaughter and the sale of horsemeat, the sale of foie gras produced by force-feeding ducks and geese, tail docking of dairy cows and processing downer livestock, commerce in shark fins and rhino horn, and potentially even bans on the sale of dog and cat meat.

Innocuously titled by its authors the "No Regulation Without Representation Act," the bill should more accurately be called the "States’ Rights Elimination Act." Like the King amendment in previous years, it could potentially nullify state laws relating to animal cruelty, child labor, cigarette safety, and even the labeling of farm-raised fish. It’s an attempt to strip states of their right to ensure the health and welfare of their citizens, prohibiting them from regulating the sale of any product produced in another state—no matter how dangerous, unethical, or environmentally destructive. 

The National Conference of State Legislatures, the bipartisan organization representing Republican and Democratic lawmakers in the states, calls this "one of the most coercive, intrusive, and preemptive legislature measures ever introduced in Congress." NCSL notes that:

The Framers of the Constitution would be alarmed, as they intended the role of the federal government to be limited, not a government that could regulate anything it wanted. The No Regulation Without Representation Act embodies the usurpation of state sovereignty and expansion of federal overreach the Framers feared. The legislation violates the Tenth Amendment’s guarantee that the sovereign rights of states cannot be abridged by Congress and aims to eliminate states’ powers within their borders, destroying the fundamental principles of federalism that have guided our nation since its founding.

Why should states be forced to allow commerce in products they have banned, for reasons of animal cruelty, food safety, and other compelling purposes? State lawmakers, governors, and regulators took action on these matters through established political processes granted to the states, and why should a small number of lawmakers in Washington trump the views of duly elected state officials?

There are so many policy issues traditionally handled by the states, in the realm of agriculture alone. What about state laws regulating the sale of raw milk, the labeling of catfish, fire-safety standards for cigarettes, the sale of dangerous pesticides, the importation of invasive pests (such as with firewood), or state quality standards for butter?  

But the new legislation is much more sweeping than just agricultural products, and covers all activities involving interstate commerce. There’s no telling how broadly this could be applied to state and local laws across a wide range of businesses. Could it prevent states from regulating strip clubs, or require dry counties to open liquor stores? Could it force states to allow abortion services if the doctors come in from another state? Would state laws on marriage licenses, pornography, drugs, guns, prostitution, and bestiality be up for grabs?

It’s ironic that some politicians often say they are for states’ rights when they agree with what the states are doing, but when they don’t like the result, they are perfectly fine with federal mandates telling states what they can and cannot do. The proponents of this legislation are trying to hang on to outdated factory farming practices, but the world has changed. The idea of extreme confinement is on its way out, with more than 200 food retail companies pledging to cleanse their supply chains of products that come from these sorts of inhumane confinement systems.

A broad and diverse coalition helped to stave off this destructive provision last time the Farm Bill was considered, and we must rally together again. Republicans and Democrats from every region of the country and every part of the political spectrum all have an interest in defeating this sweeping and unconstitutional attack on states’ rights. Not only is the protection of millions of animals in jeopardy, but this radical attack also threatens years of lawmaking by citizens and elected officials, and the very principles on which our country was founded.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

President’s budget a mixed bag for animals

The White House yesterday released President Trump’s budget for Fiscal Year 2018, providing more detail on the spending proposals for federal agencies than what was forecast earlier this year. One of the most troubling aspects of the package is the administration’s desire to allow the commercial sale of an unlimited number of wild horses and burros rounded up from federal lands. This is a betrayal of the public trust and our stewardship of these wild horses and burros, who are protected under federal law and represent the historic and pioneer spirit of the American West.

Horses_istock_270x240_Gary-Alvis
Gary Alvis/iStock

While the budget is bad for animals when looking across multiple agencies, there are a few bright spots, including stable funding levels for enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act and Horse Protection Act and a reduction in the budget for USDA’s notorious Wildlife Services program. Many lawmakers pronounced the president’s budget "dead on arrival," but where the president strayed from mainstream principles, it’s important for HSLF to comment. It is Congress that has the power of the purse, and we’ll work with our allies on Capitol Hill to fight harmful provisions to animals and ensure that the final product reflects America’s wide and deep support for animal protection. 

Here are a few key items of note: 

Wildlife Services:
President Trump has taken a major step in the right direction toward "draining the swamp" of an outdated and inhumane federal predator killing program. The proposed budget cuts the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s "Wildlife Services" program by $45 million and specifies that ranchers, farmers, and other local participants "requesting direct control assistance will need to cover the operational program costs." This would de-incentivize the U.S. government from killing and maiming wildlife and family pets, and the predator killing tax could finally get the axe. If Congress follows suit, far fewer federal taxes will be wasted on killing millions of animals using horribly inhumane and indiscriminate methods such as toxic poisons, steel-jawed leghold traps, wire neck snares, explosives, and aerial gunning. Wildlife Services would be encouraged to help people prevent wildlife damage through non-lethal deterrents which are often more effective and less costly.

Animal Welfare Act/Horse Protection Act:
We are pleased that the president’s budget recognizes the important role that USDA provides in enforcing the Animal Welfare Act and Horse Protection Act. Although USDA was cut by 21 percent overall, funding for enforcement of the AWA and HPA would remain essentially level under the proposal. The AWA requires thousands of puppy mills, laboratories, zoos, circuses, and other regulated entities to comply with its basic humane care and treatment standards, while the HPA is intended to protect Tennessee walking horses and related breeds from the cruel and criminal practice of "soring"— using caustic chemicals, torture devices, and other painful techniques on horses’ hooves and legs to force an artificial pain-based high-stepping gait.

Horse Slaughter:
The budget omits critically needed language to prevent federal tax dollars from being used to open and operate horse slaughter plants on U.S. soil. The last horse slaughter plants in the U.S. shut down a decade ago, and this language keeps the practice from being resurrected. Horse meat poses serious food safety risks from the multitude of medications horses are given throughout their lives. The horse slaughter industry is a predatory, inhumane enterprise. It doesn’t "euthanize" old horses, but precisely the opposite: "kill 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.

Wild Horses and Burros:
As noted above, the president’s budget proposes to enable the Bureau of Land Management to sell wild horses and burros without limitation—clearly signaling a desire to strip protections and open the door to sending thousands of these animals to commercial slaughter. This is a radical departure from decades of protection, when there are more humane and cost-effective strategies readily available. The BLM can save tens of millions of dollars by utilizing technologically advanced, humane alternatives to costly round-up and removal of wild horses on federal lands. Using immunocontraception to manage wild horse and burro populations in the West instead of taking them off the land and putting them in long-term government holding facilities is not only more humane, but would also help the agency get off the fiscal treadmill of rounding up horses and keeping them on the government dole.

Alternatives to Animal Testing:
The animal protection community celebrated last year’s passage of legislation to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act, with language aimed at minimizing the use of animals in chemical safety tests. We also recognized that funding for computational toxicology and other 21st century methods to reduce and ultimately replace animal testing for risk assessments is essential to implement the law. President Trump’s proposed budget goes in the wrong direction, reducing EPA’s funding for alternatives development by 28 percent, and additionally, hindering the progress made by the National Institutes of Health’s National Center for the Advancement of Translational Sciences with a 19 percent cut. This is a short-sighted approach that will impede the transition to faster, cheaper, and more predictive toxicological methods that can provide for human safety and ultimately eliminate antiquated animal tests.

Marine Mammals:
The president’s budget eliminates two initiatives critical to protecting marine mammals. The Prescott Marine Mammal Rescue Grant Program supports trained teams, largely composed of volunteers, which rescue and care for more than 5,500 stranded whales, dolphins, porpoises, and seals each year. Thanks to this care, many of the animals successfully return to the wild. With the loss of Prescott funds, which often help to leverage additional funds from the private sector, members of the public who encounter marine mammals in distress might be unable to find anyone to assist. The budget also eliminates the U.S. Marine Mammal Commission, which brings together economic interest groups, scientists, and animal protection organizations, including The HSUS, to seek practical solutions to conservation challenges facing marine mammals. These issues include how to minimize harm from offshore energy development, military exercises, and commercial fishing. The commission’s important work has been achieved on a shoestring budget, and is the kind of problem solving and bridge building the nation needs.

Friday, May 05, 2017

Political shenanigans with greyhound racing

Greyhound racing is withering, with more than two dozen tracks closing since 2001 and only 19 dog tracks remaining in just six states. In the last 15 years, the total amount gambled on greyhound racing nationwide has declined by 70 percent.

Greyhound
Denise McFadden/GREY2K USA

Despite these obvious trends, some politicians are clinging to their greyhounds and gambling cheat sheets. They are working hard to keep this cruel sport on life support, even when consumers and taxpayers are saying they’ve had enough.

The West Virginia legislature passed a bill this year to eliminate state funding to subsidize dog racing in the state, but Gov. Jim Justice vetoed the measure as a give-away to the greyhound breeding industry. Florida, home to about two-thirds of the nation’s dog tracks, still forces casinos to have live dog races, and legislation to remove this government mandate failed again this year, because of the dizzying complexity of Florida gambling politics.

And now Kansas has taken a step backwards and made a bad bet to bring back greyhound racing, eight years after the last tracks closed in the state. Although legislation to prop up dog racing through a slot subsidy scheme was seemingly dead for the year, a conference committee yesterday resuscitated it by gutting and stuffing it into an unrelated bill. This type of sneaky, backdoor maneuvering, where the public isn’t allowed to weigh in on the issue, is a way for politicians to circumvent the normal checks and balances in the legislative process.

Racing proved to be a bad experiment for Kansas, and in 2008, with no public support and a 95 percent decline in gambling, the facilities shut down. Why would Kansas lawmakers spend their political capital trying to bring back an activity that consumers and the free market don’t want? Kansas currently operates no race tracks, and Kansans do not support dog racing. This bill caters to the gambling industry with no regard for animal welfare.

This unsporting activity leads to cruelty and neglect of greyhounds. These dogs endure lives of confinement, kept in small cages barely large enough for them to stand up or turn around for long hours each day. Public and private agencies will be forced to absorb the costs of investigating related cruelty complaints, taking in dogs with injuries and illness for treatment, rescue and adoption, and picking up dead discarded bodies of dogs dumped when the racing industry is done with them. In the last six-month season of racing in Kansas, 80 dogs suffered broken legs and backs and other injures. A total of 19 dogs were killed.

The racing industry conducts extensive breeding of dogs, resulting in an annual surplus numbering in the thousands, many of whom will end up being destroyed despite the best efforts of shelters and rescue groups. What’s more, even when they are made available for adoption, they clog the adoption pipeline, making it more difficult for other dogs to find lifelong homes. Since 2008, the year that dog racing ended in Kansas, more than 12,000 greyhound injuries were reported in other states, including broken backs and legs, spinal cord paralysis, and death by cardiac arrest. Now is not the time to bring back this cruelty to the Sunflower State.

Each Kansas citizen now has an opportunity to voice their disgust with this action, but they must weigh in urgently. Contact your state legislators now and ask them to oppose greyhound racing and House Bill 2386. It’s clear the citizens of this state no longer see the entertainment value in subjecting dogs to run for their lives. The clock is ticking and the lives of thousands of greyhounds are hanging in the balance.

Greyhound racing is archaic and exploitive, and there is no place for it in the humane economy. In fact, a dog dies every three days on a Florida track. Racing greyhounds endure lives of confinement, are fed 4D meat (the Ds represent dying, diseased, disabled, and dead to describe the source of meat fed to these animals), and suffer injuries and sometimes death. As a humane movement, we must keep pushing to improve the lives of dogs, and we are making progress.

For example, the Florida regulatory agency is in the process of creating rules that will require tracks to report greyhound injuries to the state. Last year the humane community prevailed and passed a greyhound protection ordinance in Seminole County requiring disposition reporting, injury reporting, and routine inspections of greyhound kennels. This year a bill that would prohibit the use of anabolic steroids passed the Florida House with bipartisan support and came close to passing the Senate. We will keep pushing to save dogs from cruelty and remove the antiquated government mandate that requires tracks to hold a certain number of live races in order to operate their profitable poker rooms.

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