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Thursday, September 11, 2014

Deer at the County Fair? Missouri Vote Keeps the Wild in Wildlife

In a late-night, nail-biting vote yesterday, the Missouri House of Representatives failed to override Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto of a bill that would’ve relaxed restrictions on captive deer farms. Language in the bill reclassified captive deer as “livestock” rather than “wildlife.” The Senate had voted to override the veto, and the House failed by just one vote to get the two-thirds majority needed. As Missourinet reported

House Republican leadership kept the voting board open more than 20 minutes while it looked for the 109 votes needed for a veto overturn. When the tally hit 109 the instruction was given to close the board, but one lawmaker, Jeff Roorda of Barnhart, switched his vote from a “yay” to a “nay” at the last moment and the bill failed.

The legislature passed nearly every other veto override that came up yesterday, on issues ranging from abortion to gun rights to the budget, and the agriculture bill was the rare exception. It was a big loss for the Missouri Farm Bureau and other interests that want virtually no regulations on any type of farming, no matter how reckless or inhumane. And it was a win for family farmers standing up to Big Ag, as well as for conservation and animal protection advocates who work to stop captive hunting ranches and prevent the spread of disease to native wildlife. 

Deer in Missouri should be treated as wildlife, not livestock.
John Harrison

When he vetoed the legislation in July, Gov. Nixon noted that “White-tailed deer are wildlife and also game animals—no matter if they’re roaming free, or enclosed in a fenced area,” and that the Department of Conservation should not be “stripped of its authority…in order to protect narrow interests.”

In fact, there is plenty of evidence that Missouri’s deer farms need more regulation, not less. In the Indianapolis Star’s outstanding investigative series “Buck Fever”, reporter Ryan Sabalow notes that chronic wasting disease has been found in 22 states. It’s usually been first detected in captive deer or elk herds before later being found in nearby wildlife.

And bovine tuberculosis has spread from deer farms to cattle in at least four states. Wildlife officials in Missouri and other states “cited gaps in fences, or reports of escapes, at hunting preserves where CWD was found.”

In fact, the report notes, “The discovery of chronic wasting disease in Missouri in 2010 and 2011 is one of many cases that offer strong evidence that farms have helped spread the disease.” More than 30,000 wild deer in the state had been tested for almost a decade without a single positive result.

But after 11 infected deer were found on two game farms, 10 others were found in the wild within two miles of one of the pens—and nowhere else in the state. Missouri officials spent more than $1 million dealing with the outbreak of the disease, which didn’t exist in the wild in Missouri until it was introduced on the preserve.

The shooting of tame animals inside fenced pens not only spreads disease but also makes a mockery of fair-chase hunting. Sabalow cites a case 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.”

Why would lawmakers put the entire hunting and livestock economy at risk just so a few people can claim a trophy with an easy kill of a tame animal? It’s just common sense that deer should be treated as wildlife, not livestock—after all, when’s the last time you saw a deer shown at the county fair?

Unfortunately, there are special interests that want to profit from the commercialization of wildlife, no matter the costs to the state or public health, and there are politicians who blindly support their agenda, no matter how extreme. Thankfully, in this case, they fell short in their attempt to gut the restrictions, and common sense prevailed.

Friday, September 05, 2014

100 Years of Solitude: Extinction Story Calls for Action Today

This week marked a dark centennial in our relationship with animals. On September 1, 1914, the last known passenger pigeon, Martha, died alone in captivity at the Cincinnati Zoo.

It’s rare that we know the exact date a species became extinct, but in this case, we know it’s been 100 years since the extermination of passenger pigeons, which used to number in the billions in the United States.

The passenger pigeon's extinction story has modern implications.

The birds were once so common that they would darken the skies for hours or even days at a time. Yet they were wiped out in just a few decades in the late 19th century, largely due to unregulated market hunting, even on their nesting grounds.

This vast commercial slaughter was enabled by new technologies such as the telegraph, which helped to lead hunters to their flock locations, and railroads, which transported box cars of pigeon carcasses to buyers in urban cities.

The plight of the passenger pigeon is a reminder 100 years later that we must redouble our efforts to protect imperiled species and do all that we can to crack down on the commercial killing of wild animals.

The Endangered Species Act is now under attack by members of Congress who want to roll back protections for rare creatures on the brink of extinction. The House has passed H.R. 4315, which would undermine the work of professional wildlife scientists and obstruct their efforts to list species as threatened or endangered. And it's considering a raft of other bills next week to continue gutting the ESA.

The Senate is considering S. 2363, the so-called “Sportsmen’s Act,” seeking to punch holes in our federal conservation laws by encouraging the trophy killing of threatened polar bears and the pumping of toxic lead ammo into the environment which poisons eagles, condors, and other birds.

A century later, we still have commercial killing of wild animals for profit, although it’s sometimes dressed up as "wildlife management." Elephants and rhinos are butchered for their tusks and horns. But fortunately states are taking action to ban the trade in these products, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing to tighten the rules on ivory sale.

Wolves, just recently stripped of their Endangered Species Act protections, are killed for trophies and fur pelts, but Michigan voters are fighting back and working to stop the abuse by politicians and special interests. Black bears are lured to piles of jelly doughnuts and rotting meat and caught in traps so professional guides can sell an easy kill at point-blank range to rich trophy hunters. Maine voters are working to end those cruel and unsporting practices and will vote on the issue this November.

As we take on these critical fights to end the slaughter of elephants, rhinos, wolves, bears, and other wildlife, let’s remember Martha, the last passenger pigeon, and a symbol of our past errors. Our nation can do better for these creatures and help ensure their humane treatment and their survival for future generations.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Rescued Primates Need Immigration Reform Too

It’s generally unlawful to import primates into the United States—and for good reason. The animals suffer in the exotic pet trade, can be dangerous to people and other animals, and can even spread serious diseases to humans.

That’s why 26 states have banned the private ownership of primates as pets, and we are working to bar the interstate commerce in chimpanzees and other primates sold over the Internet or at exotic animal auctions.

A chimpanzee at Chimp Haven sanctuary
Brandon Wade/AP Images for The HSUS

The current U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention regulations governing the import of primates allow for certain types of foreign imports by U.S. zoos, circuses, universities, and other facilities for bona fide scientific, educational, or exhibition purposes.

But there is one important category of exemption missing: The CDC currently excludes legitimate nonprofit animal sanctuaries and blocks them from importing primates who need rescue and proper care.

U.S. Reps. Renee Ellmers, R-N.C., and Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., have introduced H.R. 3556, the Humane Care for Primates Act, to correct this omission.

This bill will require the Secretary of Health and Human Services to issue a rule allowing the importation of primates for the purpose of placement in certified sanctuaries.

It won’t cost the government anything, but it will help give the nonprofit sanctuary sector the opportunity to rescue primates in need and provide them the humane care they would not otherwise receive. And to qualify, sanctuaries would have to meet strict standards of care.

As Rep. Ellmers noted:

While the number of primates that enter the U.S. under this new rule will likely be small, it will truly make a difference for each individual animal. For instance, in 2011, a rescue center in Amman, Jordan requested that a U.S. sanctuary import and provide permanent refuge for three vervet monkeys and nine baboons confiscated from severely inhumane circumstances in zoos and private possession.

That same year, another rescue center in Kenya requested that a U.S. sanctuary take in a yellow baboon who was kept as a pet for two years and was facing impending euthanasia. Despite being fully equipped to accept and care for these primates for the rest of their lives, as well as the ability to assist a foreign sanctuary in need, the current regulation forced the U.S. facilities to deny these requests.

Shouldn’t a U.S. sanctuary that has the proper capacity and professional expertise be allowed to rescue and care for a baboon or monkey languishing in Africa or Asia, when there is no other option? If you can import a primate to perform in a circus or to be used in a lab experiment, shouldn’t you also be able to do so for the well-being of the animal?

This important bill is supported by HSLF, The Humane Society of the United States, Born Free USA, Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries, and other U.S. and international animal protection groups. Please contact your own U.S. representative today, and urge him or her to cosponsor the Humane Care for Primates Act.

Monday, August 25, 2014

The Movement for Hens to Move

KPBS of San Diego reported this weekend on Hilliker’s Ranch Fresh Eggs in Lakeside converting its battery cage egg facility to cage-free housing for hens. Owner Frank Hilliker says the birds appear to be happier and are producing more. He says he was against the cage-free idea for 40 years, especially in 2008 when California voters decided Proposition 2 in November of that year.

But after voters emphatically said they want more humane treatment of laying hens, Hilliker has invested $200,000 to convert one hen house and has four more to go.

California farmers are moving birds out of cages.

Prop 2, approved with 63.5 percent of the statewide vote, has already had a big impact even though its does not go into legal effect until January 2015.

Throughout the state—fifth largest in the nation in egg production—farmers are moving birds from small wire cages, where they are crammed 12 to a cage and are virtually immobilized for their entire lives.

Hens are living new lives in cage-free barns, where they can spread their wings, scratch, nest, and engage in natural behaviors.

In addition to Hilliker’s, other egg producers such as Hidden Villa Ranch and Opal Foods are expanding their cage-free operations. And major food service providers, grocery stores, and restaurant chains are driving the market to put more cage-free eggs in front of consumers.

Several Midwestern attorneys general, led by Missouri’s Chris Koster, have filed a federal lawsuit to overturn California’s humane law—arguing that it will be too costly for farmers. But the standards are clearly workable, and that’s made plain by the producers who are shifting their production methods and realizing that the outcome is better for them, for consumers, and for the hens.

The outliers who want to continue to cram birds into tiny wire cages that are filthy breeding grounds for Salmonella are falling increasingly out of step with consumers and with the standards of decency in our society. And government officials shouldn’t pander to them.

Why should California consumers be forced to buy products that are unsafe and inhumane, such as eggs from cruel battery cages in Iowa? That state was the epicenter of a massive Salmonella outbreak in 2010, resulting in more than 1,000 people being sickened across the country and prompting the recall of a half-billion eggs. If producers from Iowa, Missouri, or any other state want to sell eggs to California, they should meet California’s reasonable animal welfare and food safety standards.

There are still some who complain about states having different rules on egg production. Congress had an opportunity to do something about it, by passing legislation backed by animal welfare groups and the egg industry to establish comprehensive national standards for the housing of laying hens—improving the treatment of not only the 20 million hens in California, but all 285 million in the United States.

Unfortunately, that legislation has been blocked, for the time being, by the National Pork Producers Council, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, and the American Farm Bureau Federation, which oppose all state and federal standards to improve animal welfare on farms and slaughterhouses. 

Kudos to the California egg producers who are transitioning their operations in the run-up to Prop 2 taking effect next year and providing the birds with more space and better lives.

This kind of progress shouldn’t be slowed by Midwestern attorneys general trying to curry favor with Big Ag. It should be an example that good farmers are capable of making a transition that’s aligned with animal welfare principles and the wants of consumers.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Show Me the Impact: Missouri's Puppy Mill Law, 4 Years Later

State legislatures so far this year have already passed 84 new laws on animal protection—ushering in a wide range of reforms involving felony cruelty penalties, puppy mills, shark finning, exotic pets, fox penning, the ivory trade, and more. That makes more than 1,000 new state animal protection laws on the books since 2005.

Of course, the goal is not just to have new laws on the books, but to see them properly enforced and having the desired practical impact in the field of reducing suffering and saving lives. Nearly four years since the landmark approval by Missouri voters of Proposition B—the first ballot measure campaign to set standards for the care of dogs in large-scale commercial breeding operations, battled out in the puppy mill capital of America—we can now look back and see the impact the law is having.

Missouri's Prop B set standards for puppy mills.

Although the Missouri legislature and Gov. Jay Nixon weakened some of the key elements of the voter-approved measure before it even had a chance to take effect, what remained intact still makes Missouri’s law one of the strongest anti-puppy mill statutes in the nation. Josh Benson of the Columbia Missourian has authored a remarkable three-part series on commercial dog breeding in Missouri and reports on the impact the new standards have had on dogs confined in puppy mills.

Benson reports in Part 1 that since the statute became law, more than 1,300 dogs have been rescued, 37 businesses or individuals were referred to the Missouri Attorney General’s Office for Prosecution, and more than $25,000 in civil fines were assessed and nine licenses revoked, ranging in length from three to 10 years. He notes, “By contrast, in the 24 months before the law took effect, 10 businesses or individuals were referred to state officials for violating Missouri's animal welfare laws. No civil fines were assessed in those cases.”

Importantly, due to the legislation, “Since 2010, the number of commercial breeders licensed with Missouri's Animal Care Program has dropped from about 1,400 to just over 800, a decline of more than 40 percent, according to data obtained from the Missouri Department of Agriculture.”

Even though the new law was weakened (with input from breeders), it appears to be having the right impact. But the puppy mill apologists still oppose having any standards whatsoever. In Part 2, lobbyist Karen Strange of the Missouri Federation of Animal Owners said her group opposes animal welfare laws and doesn’t want regulation of breeders. That’s the kind of attitude that undercuts the entire industry because it allows the worst abusers to cut corners and get a free pass.

In Part 3, Benson quotes the animal welfare inspection reports from a breeder who ran a commercial facility in Lawrence County, comparing it to a horror story:

  • "Defendant provided her dogs with dirty, muddy, non-potable water."
  • "Defendant failed to equip her housing facilities with waste water or water drainage systems such that one 3-week-old American Eskimo puppy was observed covered in mud, shivering."
  • "Defendant failed to meet the minimum standards for sanitary flooring by failing to clean her dog pens such that feces had accumulated over time to the point where one could not tell the difference between feces and flooring."
  • "Defendant failed to provide necessary veterinary care to a female blue parti-colored Cocker Spaniel whose left eye was barely visible and oozing liquid and an 11-week-old Cocker Spaniel with a bite wound on its left side."
  • "Defendant failed to provide adequate veterinary care to a male Sheltie that was emaciated and missing most of its body hair after two months of observed infirmity."
  • "Defendant admitted she routinely relied on gunshot as a means of euthanasia. She shot the a form of euthanasia because it was a 'cheaper option.'"

The breeder was fined $2,500, and her license was revoked for six years. In total, hundreds of puppy mills are now out of business, and hundreds of dogs have been rescued from a life of misery and sent on their way to good, loving homes. In 2016, when additional reforms take effect, commercial breeding operations will be required to increase the space allotments for dogs, and give them constant access to the outdoors for exercise.

That’s a positive thing, and I urge you to check out the Columbia Missourian series online. It’s a great account of the tangible progress made on this front in recent years, just one reason to be encouraged about the prospects for eliminating the worst elements of the puppy mill trade in the United States.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Domestic Violence Hurts the Whole Family

Domestic violence is more complicated, in terms of the social relationships, than previously understood. Many abusers will harm or threaten the beloved dog or cat of a spouse or partner as a way of exerting control over that person. As many as one-third of domestic violence victims delay their departure from an abusive relationship for up to two years out of fear that their pets will be harmed if they leave. It’s a gross contortion of the human-animal bond, with the abuser 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.

With the growing body of evidence on the link between animal cruelty and human violence, 28 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 live with family in another state where pets are not covered under protective orders?

Pets for Life Chicago
Credit: The HSUS/Claudia Ruge

In Congress, U.S. Reps. Katherine Clark, D-Mass., and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., are tackling this problem head on. Today, Rep. Clark held a news conference in Massachusetts where she announced the introduction of the Pet and Women Safety (PAWS) Act of 2014. The PAWS Act, H.R. 5267, would expand federal domestic violence protections to include safeguards for the pets of abuse victims on a national level.

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 3 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.

This legislation would show that Congress recognizes the seriousness of domestic violence and provide victims and their families with the help they need. There are countless examples of horrific cruelty used to further torment and intimidate a victim, as in this account from a woman whose cat was killed in front of her, as described in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence:

“The very last thing he did to my cat hurt my heart so bad. He had me stand here and…she was tied to the tree [with]…fishing wire or…thread or something. And he…turned her around, stuffed [fireworks] in her behind and lit it. And I had to stand there and watch my cat explode in my face. And he was like, ‘That could happen to you.’”

That sickening, revolting, and demented scene should never recur, with a different cast of people and animals.  And Congress can do something about it. Please contact your U.S. Representative and urge him or her to help the human and animal victims of domestic violence by cosponsoring H.R. 5267.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Tackling the Tusk Trade

In a welcome break from partisan gridlock, Republicans and Democrats are joining together to protect elephants and rhinos from illegal poaching. This month, New Jersey and New York became the first two states to ban the trade in elephant ivory and rhino horns, with bills signed by Governors Chris Christie, R-N.J., and Andrew Cuomo, D-N.Y.  The new policies will help to crack down on international wildlife traffickers and dry up the demand for illegal wildlife products in the northeast, which is the largest U.S. market for ivory and a main entry point for smuggled wildlife products.

Elephants and rhinos are threatened by a global poaching crisis. Only 28,000 rhinos of five different species remain in the wild, with more than 1,000 of them poached last year for their horns. In 2012, about 35,000 African elephants were killed for their tusks, and if the current poaching rate continues, African elephants could be extinct in a few decades. In Central Africa, populations of forest elephants have declined by 65 percent during the last decade. Asian elephants are critically endangered with fewer than 50,000 left in the wild.

Seized Ivory Crush
Seized U.S. ivory stockpile bound for crushing. Credit: The HSUS/Iris Ho

Much of the killing is associated with criminal networks and Africa-based terrorist groups like al-Shabaab, the Lord’s Resistance Army, and others, which use the proceeds from ivory sales to fund their nefarious activities. As House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce, R-Calif., noted, “While this growing problem is a grave threat to wildlife, with some animals facing extinction, it is also a threat to U.S. national security interests. As long as illegal wildlife trafficking continues, terrorists and rebel groups will have yet another way to fund their deadly objectives.”

Policymakers need to do more to address this problem. Fortunately, President Obama has announced a national strategy to crack down on elephant poaching and the ivory trade, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service plans to issue new regulations that would prohibit the commercial import all African elephant ivory, including antiques, with a few exemptions for non-commercial purposes. This near-total ban on U.S. commerce in African elephant ivory, with the exception of a narrow class of antiques and certain ivory items that are exempt from regulation under the Endangered Species Act, will build on the efforts of the states to stem the tide of the poaching epidemic.

Shockingly, some members of Congress are trying to retain the status quo on the illegal slaughter of elephants, and at the request of the trophy hunting and gun lobbies and the music and antique industries, are fighting the Administration’s proposal. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.—whom Chattanoogan columnist Roy Exum said is “morphing into America’s newest champion of animal abuse”—and Rep. Steve Daines, R-Mont., have introduced the so-called “Lawful Ivory Protection Act,” which would handcuff the Fish and Wildlife Service and prevent the administration from taking any new action to protect elephants from the ivory trade.

These short-sighted politicians are lamenting the ability of someone to resell a gun or a guitar with a little bit of ivory on it, without regard for the fate of the largest land mammal in the world or our national security. Congress should follow the lead of New Jersey and New York, and support the global effort to stop the slaughter of elephants and rhinos—not provide aid and comfort to the organized criminal network of poachers and traffickers.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Slow Down Needed on Sea Cow Downlisting

Ask any child to name an endangered sea creature, and not every kid would list the manatee first, but that species would make almost every top 10 list. These gentle giants, who long ago inspired the mermaid myth, can grow to more than 1,000 pounds and 10 feet in length. Sometimes called sea cows, they are plant-eaters, and spend their time grazing in shallow waters, slowly swimming about three to five miles per hour, making them especially vulnerable to boat strikes and other human threats.

Things could get much worse for these iconic sea creatures, as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is now considering reducing protections for manatees under the Endangered Species Act. The move comes in response to a petition from a Florida property rights group, which says it’s fighting so-called excessive government regulation and wants to roll back manatee protections that place restrictions on boating and other water-based activities.

Manatees have been listed as an endangered species since 1967. Although their population has grown since that time, the species still faces grave dangers. Cold snaps remain deadly to manatees, and many of the warm water springs that are key to their survival in winter are no longer accessible. The warm discharge water from power plants, to which they have turned, won’t be there forever as aging power plants are slated to go offline.  

Photo Credit: Alamy

About one quarter of manatee deaths each year are caused by boats hitting them. More than 80 percent of manatees, in fact, haves scars from prior collisions. Tragically, because so many of them are injured, it is their scar patterns that enable scientists to identify and track manatees. If they survive a collision, these long-lived creatures can bear scars from generations of boat strikes.

Red tide—a harmful algae—also kills dozens of manatees each year. In 2013, more than 175 died in southwest Florida alone. Water temperatures, fertilizer run-off and other factors contribute to these deadly outbreaks and the situation is not improving. In 2013, hundreds of manatees and other wildlife on Florida’s east coast died mysteriously and the sea grass beds on which manatees depend for food have seen a die-off as well.

The year 2013 was the deadliest so far for manatees, with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission estimating that 830 manatees died from a variety of causes. More than 250 have already died in 2014. The protections that have been in place—including speed limits, curbs on development and human use of their critical habitats and protection of warm water wintering areas—are more critical than ever for manatees, especially as Florida’s human population continues to grow.

Are we so selfish as a species that we can’t slow down when boating in certain areas, or exercise some restraint on further development in manatee habitat? There’s nothing excessive about having reasonable boundaries in place to protect critically endangered species, just as the National Marine Fisheries Service acknowledged last year when it adopted seasonal speed restrictions for ships in high-use habitat of the North Atlantic right whale. Manatees still face significant threats and die in tragically high numbers. Tell the USFWS this is not the time to downgrade their protections under the Endangered Species Act.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

What to Do on Your Summer Vacation

Congress finishes its work today before heading into a month-long recess, and it provides an opportunity for animal advocates to take action during the August break. You may not be able to travel to Washington to meet with your representatives and senators in person, but you can meet with them in their district and state offices close to home. In fact, lawmakers often have more time to visit with constituents in their district offices, because their Washington schedules are so hectic.

Capital looking up
Credit: Morguefile/Kevin Connors

Take the time to schedule a meeting with them in August, and talk to them about federal animal protection policies that are important to you. With the congressional session winding down and only a couple months of work left when they return, the timing couldn’t be better to help push a number of pending bills over the finish line this year. You can also invite them to learn more about animal protection work by taking them on a tour of your animal shelter, pet adoption center, spay/neuter clinic, wildlife sanctuary, horse rescue, or other local program.

Here are some tips from my friend Stephanie Vance, adapted from her book “Government by the People: How to Communicate with Congress”:

Don’t ignore the District / State Congressional Office. We all know that in order to be successful, advocates must build positive long-term relationships with their Representatives and Senators. One terrific means of doing so is to engage the district or state office in your issues.

Generally, district or state staff may have slightly more time to delve more into the nuances of your issues and understand better how those issues affect the Congressperson’s constituents. In fact, an effective advocate can turn the district staff into a “lobbyist” for them within the Congressional organization. It’s also important to know that every Representative has a “home-style” and a “DC-style”.

Frankly, many Representatives are much more relaxed and receptive in their home districts. So be sure to meet with the Member and/or their staff in the district office. Or, invite the district staff to an event or a tour of your facility – any activity that will get them involved in your issues and policy concerns. Finally, associations, business groups, or other organizations might want to consider having a “District/State Lobby Day” in addition to the traditional Washington, DC lobby day. This would be a day designated for association members to meet with their federal representatives in their home offices.

So if you’re taking a “staycation” this summer, stay in touch with your federal lawmakers close to home, and keep them informed of critical legislation to protect animals from cruelty and abuse. Here are a few of the priority bills you can ask them to cosponsor, if they have not already done so. If they are already cosponsoring, thank them and ask them to do all they can to get this legislation enacted quickly:

  • S. 1406/H.R. 1518, the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, to 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 exaggerate their high-stepping gait and gain unfair competitive advantage at horse shows.
  • S. 1463/H.R. 2856, the Captive Primate Safety Act, to prohibit the interstate trade in primates as pets, for the sake of both animal welfare and humane safety. 
  • S. 541/ H.R. 1094, the Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act, to protect horses and consumers by prohibiting the transport and export of U.S. horses to slaughter for human consumption. 
  • S. 820/ H.R. 1731, the Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments, to improve the lives of hundreds of millions of egg-laying hens and give consumers more information on egg carton labels. 
  • S. 973/H.R. 2012, the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act, to crack down on the doping of horses in the racing industry, and provide oversight by the U.S. Anti-Doping Association, the independent body that has helped root out doping in other professional sports.
  • S. 1710/H.R. 2066, the Pets on Trains Act, to direct Amtrak to propose a pet policy that allows passengers to travel with companion dogs and cats on certain trains.
  • S. 1381/H.R. 1998, the Big Cats and Public Safety Protection Act, to prohibit the private ownership and breeding of tigers, lions, and other dangerous big cats as exotic pets.
  • H.R. 4148, the Humane Cosmetics Act, to phase out the use of animals in cosmetics testing and the sale of animal-tested cosmetics.
  • H.R. 3556, the Humane Care for Primates Act, to allow the importation and care of abused, injured or abandoned nonhuman primates at legitimate wildlife sanctuaries.


Thursday, July 24, 2014

PAST Act is Past Due

Congress is in session for another week before the August recess, and has a lot of work to get done. While there have been a number of notable legislative achievements for animals so far in 2014—upgrading the federal animal fighting statute, de-funding horse slaughter plants, allowing mobile veterinary care, and defeating the noxious King amendment—there are a number of critical animal protection bills that still need to get over the finish line.

PAST Act Rally DC
Advocates rally in support of the PAST Act on June 18 at the U.S. Capitol. Credit: The HSUS

One of those measures, the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, has more bipartisan support than nearly any other bill in Congress—with 304 co-sponsors in the House and 57 in the Senate. The Senate bill has passed the Commerce Committee in that chamber, but the House bill—even with seven of every ten House members co-sponsoring it—has not yet had committee action. As The Tennessean reported this week, the sponsors, Reps. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., and Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., are calling on House leadership to bring up the bill for a vote. Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., who is not a co-sponsor, said it well: “Even with a Republican leading the charge, a bill with more than 300 co-sponsors can’t get a vote. House leadership should let members work their will.”

The PAST Act is critically needed to fortify the Horse Protection Act and end the criminal practice of soring—the intentional abuse of horses’ hooves and legs with chemicals and other substances to cause intense pain and force an artificially high-stepping gait in show competitions. It would strengthen the penalties for violating the law, ban the use of devices associated with soring, and replace the current failed system of industry self-policing with independent inspectors. A handful of lawmakers aligned with the “Big Lick” segment of the industry—led by Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., and Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.—have introduced "alternative" legislation that would maintain the status quo and give the horse abusers a get-out-of-jail-free card. Here’s what some people who are familiar with the industry and are all endorsing the PAST Act have to say about horse soring and these bills:

“I've seen and have used every sort of caustic agent that can be used to enhance and to achieve the ‘big lick’ gait….[N]ow I realize that the horse was put in a great deal of pain, physically and emotionally, and it was simply struggling to move.” - Carl Bledsoe, trainer

“Personally I have invested nearly 47 of my 60 years into this industry….Unfortunately like all other farms associated with this industry we have seen the industry decline because of those who continuously abuse this great breed through inhumane training techniques and therefore keep it under a cloud of corruption.” - Clayton T. Harlin Sr., former Director, Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders’ and Exhibitors’ Association

“I was once at a barn in the early morning and found a horse dead, still hanging from the crossties… Severe abscesses are found in pressure shod horses. I worked on a horse whose entire sole had detached. His trainer didn’t want to miss a horse show …[H]alf the digital cushion had been eaten away by infection and the coffin bone was exposed.” - Eric Gray, farrier

“I vividly recall a person in a training barn that walked by me carrying a can of their mix of mustard oil and kerosene, and the smell was strong enough to cause me to recoil….The fact is the big lick can only be accomplished by soring. When one soring technique becomes detectable, another one is developed.” - Dr. John Haffner, veterinarian

“It’s been compared to a woman wearing high heels, but that comparison only works if you nail the heel to her feet then refuse to allow her to sit or lie down for more than a few minutes of time…for years…while she is forced to go running four or five days a week…carrying twenty percent of her body weight on her back.” - Pam Reband, MD; former Vice President, Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders’ and Exhibitors’ Association

“Over the years, Elvis and I owned several Tennessee walking horses, and I know them to be gentle, graceful creatures ….Congress must pass the PAST Act to end this torture of show horses….A campaign of misinformation is being waged by a small segment of this industry that has a cultural and financial interest in keeping the stacked and chained, chemically and mechanically sored show horse in competitions around the country.” [On whether ending the Big Lick will hurt the breed:] “It’s not going to ruin it; it’s going to save the breed.” - Priscilla Presley

“On behalf of the National Sheriffs’ Association (NSA), and the more than 3,000 elected sheriffs nationwide, I write to express our support for S. 1406, the ‘Prevent All Soring Tactics Act’….The horse industry is littered with cases of neglect and abuse, which the current self-policing system has failed to properly address.” - Aaron Kennard, Exec. Director, National Sheriffs’ Association

“The AVMA is one of the bill’s strongest supporters. We really want this bill [PAST] enacted and we have every state veterinary medical association on board as well supporting this bill.” On the Blackburn/Alexander alternative (H.R. 4098/S. 2193), “AVMA is opposed to this legislation for several reasons, including: the bill fails to make the actual act of soring illegal; the bill does not improve enforcement because it retains and enhances the walking horse industry self-policing system; and it does not ban action devices and performance packages, which are known to exacerbate or hide signs of soring.” - Dr. Whitney Miller, American Veterinary Medical Association

“The Blackburn bill does not satisfy the concerns raised by the Department of Agriculture, by people who are opposed to soring. It allows action devices – chains, pads – to continue to be worn. It allows the DQP system to remain in the hands of the industry that is being regulated – the fox in the hen house type of thing. It doesn’t do what is necessary to stop this practice. The PAST Act does.” - James J. Hickey, President, American Horse Council

Add your voice to theirs, and ask your members of Congress to support the PAST Act, and to do all they can to get this critical anti-soring legislation passed this year.

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