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Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Make a PACT to Stop Animal Cruelty

In the mid-1980s, only four states—Massachusetts, Michigan, Oklahoma, and Rhode Island—had felony-level penalties for malicious cruelty to animals. But today, all 50 states have such a policy, and there’s a national consensus that vicious acts of animal abuse and torment should be treated as a serious crime.

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istock.com

At the federal level, too, it’s a felony to organize or train animals for dogfighting or cockfighting and a misdemeanor to attend an animal fight.

There is also 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. This ban was recently upheld on appeal.

But while the images and video depictions of cruelty are illegal under federal law, the underlying conduct of the cruelty itself is not.

Today, Congressmen Lamar Smith, R-Tex., Ted Deutch, D-Fla., Tom Marino, R-Pa., and Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., introduced the Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture (PACT) Act, H.R. 2293, to close this loophole.

This important new legislation will strengthen the animal crush video law and prohibit those same extreme acts of animal cruelty when they occur in interstate or foreign commerce. It would complement the federal animal fighting statute and the felony cruelty laws in all 50 states.

The PACT Act would 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 on 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 brutal 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.

For example, the cruel treatment of animals in airports (including the recent drowning of a two-week-old puppy in an airport toilet), on trains, highways, and other forms of interstate commerce could result in federal charges under the PACT Act. The law could also give prosecutors a powerful new tool to break up the trade or transport of animals for bestiality, which is especially needed because bestiality is still legal in some states.

A number of studies have drawn links between the abuse of animals and violence against people. A 2001-2004 study by the Chicago Police Department “revealed a startling propensity for offenders charged with crimes against animals to commit other violent offenses toward human victims.” Of those arrested for animal crimes, 65 percent had been arrested for battery against another person.

Of 36 convicted multiple murderers questioned in one study, 46 percent admitted committing acts of animal torture as adolescents. And of seven school shootings that took place across the country between 1997 and 2001, all involved boys who had previously committed acts of animal cruelty. 

A 2002 study found that 96 percent of juveniles who had sexual conduct with animals also admitted to sex offenses against humans. The FBI says serial sexual homicide perpetrators commonly sexually assault animals.

The PACT Act will make our communities safer for human and animal residents. We are grateful to Reps. Smith, Deutch, Marino, and Blumenauer for introducing this important anti-cruelty bill. Please ask your members of Congress to cosponsor the PACT Act today.

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Anti-Horse Slaughter Bill Hits the Senate

Many animal protection issues and challenges are not resolved quickly—they involve long-term fights that take years. The slaughter of horses for human consumption is one such example.

We and our allies have been working to block horse slaughter plants from opening in the U.S.; to stop the long-distance transport of these companion animals in cramped cattle trucks, bound for a brutal slaughter in Canada and Mexico; and to close down export markets for horse meat in the E.U.

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istock.com

Our legislative adversaries, fearing to tread on this ground, don’t attempt to provide an outright defense of these extreme abuses of animals.

Instead, they try to cast this business—the business of slaughtering horses to profit from the animals’ exported meat—as some kind of altruistic act that helps the horses.

Today, a quartet of Democrat and Republican senators have introduced a bipartisan bill to end that cruel and archaic practice and put an end to the charade of its defense. In a recent blog, I wrote about the reintroduction of the Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act, H.R. 1942, in the House of Representatives.

This legislation would save horses from the cruelty of slaughter—a fate that is nothing short of a complete betrayal of an animal who has stood by us throughout history and is revered as a symbol of the American West.

Now U.S. Senators Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), and Susan Collins (R-ME) have introduced a companion bill in the Senate, S. 1214, to completely end the slaughter of American horses for human consumption. 

The effort to end horse slaughter has consistently garnered tremendous support with both the public and lawmakers. Polling shows that 80 percent of Americans oppose horse slaughter, and when horse slaughter plants attempted to reopen on U.S. soil in 2013, the public fought back. We don’t slaughter dogs and cats to ship their meat to other countries, and we’ll never accept the idea of slaughtering our horses so they can end up on a foreign dinner plate.

The horse slaughter industry and their financial backers should see the writing on the wall and recognize that they are swimming against the tide of public opinion.

Congress has spoken on this issue as well. For the past two fiscal years, it has rightfully prevented the use of tax dollars for horse slaughter inspections, effectively preventing horse slaughter plants from opening here. And when the House version of the SAFE Act was introduced last month, it gained 71 cosponsors within the first week and a half after the bill was introduced.

Now we have a bipartisan group of leaders in the Senate coming together to put the final nail in the coffin and end horse slaughter for human consumption, once and for all.

In 2012, New Jersey became the most recent state to ban horse slaughter for human consumption. Senator Menendez, the senior senator from the Garden State, has been a strong proponent of animal protection and has championed reforms to protect horses from horrific abuses such as slaughter, inhumane transport, and soring.

Senators Graham, Mikulski, and Collins have also been strong voices for humane values, and—as Senate Appropriations Committee senior members—are well placed to help horses. They will be at the forefront of efforts to make sure that the language preventing the funding of horse slaughter inspections is retained yet again so that no horse slaughter plants can open here while the SAFE Act is pending.

The horse slaughter industry is a predatory, inhumane enterprise. It doesn’t “euthanize” old horses but precisely the opposite: scurrilous players buy up young and healthy horses, often by misrepresenting their intentions, and kill them to sell the meat to Europe and Japan.

It’s time for Congress to pass the SAFE Act and end horse slaughter for human consumption for good. Please take action today, and ask your U.S. Senators and U.S. Representative to cosponsor the SAFE Act.

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

States Make Progress on Animal Fighting, Puppy Mills, and More

There’s been a lot of action on animal protection policies in state legislatures so far this year, just a few months into 2015. Some major priority bills have been enacted to help crack down on cockfighting, puppy mills, and other large-scale cruelties. Other major issues are on the move, and have cleared key legislative hurdles. We’ve also garnered some key vetoes of bills inimical to animal protection. Here are a few brief dispatches on the progress for animals—and some roadblocks—in the states so far in 2015.

Animal Fighting: Utah became the 42nd state to establish felony-level penalties for cockfighting, and Tennessee capped a seven-year campaign to fortify the state’s anti-cockfighting statute and make it a crime to attend or bring a child to an animal fight. Anti-cockfighting bills are still pending in Ohio and South Carolina. Shamefully, Montana lawmakers voted down a bill to ban attendance at dogfights—retaining their status as the only state in the nation to have such a loophole.

Ivory: The Oregon Senate voted to ban the trade in elephant ivory and rhino horn in the state, and a similar bill advanced in California through the Committee on Water, Parks and Wildlife. A coalition led by Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen, and supported by The HSUS and HSLF, launched a ballot initiative in Washington to ban the trafficking in rare species. If these measures are enacted, the west coast will join New York and New Jersey in cutting off the demand for elephant and rhino poaching.

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Virginia became the third state to restrict sources of pet-store puppies. Photo by Chris Keane/AP Images for The HSUS

Puppy Mills: Virginia strengthened its anti-puppy mill law, by prohibiting pet stores from acquiring dogs from commercial breeders with the worst violations of the Animal Welfare Act, and cracking down on unregulated sales of dogs and cats at flea markets, parking lots, and rest stops. It’s the third state to restrict sources of pet-store puppies, and the fifth to address unregulated outdoor sales, helping to drive the market toward responsible breeders and shelters and rescue groups.

Sharks: The Texas House passed a bill to ban the trade in shark fins and to help combat the brutal finning of sharks left to die slowly in the oceans. If enacted, Texas would join nine other states and three U.S. territories with similar policies to crack down on the killing of 26 to 73 million sharks each year, just for a bowl of soup.

Greyhounds: Unfortunately, the Florida legislature adjourned without finalizing a major gambling bill, which would have repealed the state’s mandate that tracks hold live dog racing. Florida is one of the last states in the nation to legally force business owners to hold dog races, resulting in hundreds of injuries to dogs each year.

Gas Chambers: The Kansas House passed a bill to ban the use of carbon monoxide gas chambers to euthanize dogs and cats at shelters, but the language was modified in a conference committee to require that the Department of Agriculture update euthanasia standards by the end of the year. The HSUS will follow this process closely to ensure that it results in a ban on gas chambers, and will continue working with shelters in the remaining gas chamber states to transition them away from this outdated killing practice. In South Carolina, a bill banning gas chambers has passed the House and is currently awaiting a hearing in the Senate.

Ag-Gag: Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey vetoed a misguided and dangerous bill that would have hindered whistleblowing investigations into animal abuse on factory farms and bifurcated the state’s anti-cruelty statute—creating one set of rules for companion animals and another, weaker, one for farm animals and horses—after hearing from thousands of constituents who opposed this power grab by Big Ag. We are working to fight pending “ag-gag” legislation which seeks to stop whistleblowers and journalists from exposing abuses on factory farms in a number of states.

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The North Carolina House passed a bill that would ban the most dangerous wild animals from being kept as pets.Photo by Kathy Milani/The HSUS

Captive Wildlife: West Virginia passed a follow-up bill to last year’s law on dangerous wild animals as pets, ensuring that the private ownership of lions, tigers, bears, apes, monkeys, and other species will be prohibited in the state. And the North Carolina House passed a bill that would also ban the most dangerous wild animals from being kept as pets. These are two of the handful of remaining states with little to no restrictions on the keeping of dangerous wildlife. Also, a bill advanced in California through the Senate Committee on Public Safety to ban the use of bullhooks on elephants.

Unsporting Hunting Methods: The Indiana Senate voted down a bill that would have legalized captive hunting of deer, elk, and other cervids trapped behind fences—an unsporting and inhumane practice that also spreads deadly diseases to native wildlife and livestock. The Colorado, Oregon, and Washington legislatures all rejected attempts by trophy-hunting groups to repeal portions of citizen-passed ballot measures that prohibit the baiting and hounding of bears or cougars. Montana Gov. Steve Bullock vetoed a bill yesterday that would have dramatically liberalized the use of steel-jawed leghold traps and other body-gripping traps in the state.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

A Big Bang to Stop Horse Slaughter

A bipartisan team of lawmakers today introduced federal legislation to stop the butchering of America’s companion horses and the peddling of their doped up meat to foreign consumers.

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The HSUS

For the past two fiscal years, Congress has rightly stopped the use of tax dollars for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to conduct horse slaughter inspections, preventing the plants from opening here.

But the Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act (H.R. 1942)—which was introduced by Reps. Frank Guinta, R-N.H.; Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill.; Vern Buchanan, R-Fla.; Michelle Lujan Grisham, D-N.M.; and a bipartisan group of original cosponsors—would completely ban horse slaughter operations in the U.S.

It would also stop the export of American horses for the purpose of slaughter in other countries such as Canada and Mexico.

Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting, star of CBS’s “The Big Bang Theory,” is helping The HSUS spread the word about the cruelty of horse slaughter and urging Congress to pass the SAFE Act. You can watch her PSA here.


Kaley said, “As a horse owner, I know firsthand the unique bond we share with horses, and I am passionate about protecting them from cruelty. To force any horse to endure the horror of slaughter is a betrayal of their trust and loyalty. I hope my PSA will focus attention on this important issue and bring an end to the slaughter of American horses.”

Horses suffer in long-distance transport and in the slaughter process. Rounded up from random sources, these are former racehorses, show ponies, working animals, and backyard pets who meet a terrible fate.

The animals were also never intended for human consumption, so they’ve been given drugs and medications throughout their lifetimes that are prohibited from being introduced into the human food supply. The European Commission, in fact, has suspended horsemeat imports from Mexico where most of those slaughtered horses originated in the U.S.

The horse slaughter industry is a predatory, inhumane enterprise. It doesn’t “euthanize” old horses, but precisely the opposite: scurrilous players buy up young and healthy horses, often by misrepresenting their intentions, and kill them to sell the meat to Europe and Japan.

It’s time for Congress to close gaps in the law and stop treating these American icons as nothing more than meat on the hoof. Please ask your representative to cosponsor the SAFE Act today.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

See No Evil: Dogfighting Spectator Law Already Making a Difference

I’m pleased to report that the Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act, which we worked with Congress to enact last year, is now having a tangible impact in the field and helping to crack down on the entire cast of characters involved in animal fighting. This week, eight people were convicted under federal law for attending a dogfight in Akron, Ohio.

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The HSUS

Last November, police raided what the Cleveland Plain Dealer called a nationwide dogfighting ring. Forty-seven people were arrested. Ten were charged in federal court, and the rest are being prosecuted in state court.

The spectators who had crossed state lines to attend the match were charged federally, along with the two chief organizers of the fights that were held that night.

Eight dogs were seized in the raid, including two who were already bloodied and were fighting in a 16-by-16-foot pit when law enforcement descended on the property.

Animal fighting routinely goes hand in hand with other crimes, and this was no exception. Narcotics and $52,000 in gambling cash were confiscated. One convicted felon was charged with being in possession of a firearm.This was a highly organized operation, and fight organizers even sold concessions and dogfighting paraphernalia to attendees.

These latest convictions show that while much of our work involves passing laws to protect animals, it’s equally important that those laws be properly enforced. Thanks to the Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act, it’s now a federal crime to attend or bring a child to an animal fight.

This was the fourth upgrade of the federal animal fighting statute since 2002, as we’ve worked to close gaps in the legal framework and strengthen the penalties for dogfights and cockfights.

With the FBI now tracking animal cruelty crimes in the Uniform Crime Reporting database, and agencies like the National Sheriffs’ Association speaking out forcefully against animal cruelty, we should see more enforcement of all animal cruelty laws. Animal fighting crimes are particularly well suited for federal prosecution because animal fighting almost always involves interstate activity.

In another high-profile example, federal investigators closed down a major cockfighting pit in Pikeville, Kentucky, last year and found that participants in that operation came from dozens of states.

Those out of state attendees even included members of organized criminal gangs like the Mexican Mafia. The evidence is clear. Animal fighting is a lose-lose endeavor for the animals as well as for the communities where the crimes are staged.

It also demonstrates why strong federal and state laws are both needed and complementary in the effort to crack down on animal fighting. Sometimes the fights are multi-state and multi-jurisdictional, and participants might be charged under federal law, or state law, or both. We are grateful to the lawmakers who helped shepherd through this new spectator animal fighting provision in the last Congress, thus providing one more important tool for law enforcement.

Of course, much more needs to be done across the country. The Tennessee House of Representatives may vote this week on a bill that would strengthen the state’s animal fighting law. The Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission has written to every member of the Tennessee House, urging them to support efforts to stiffen the penalties for animal fighting.

It’s far too early to declare victory over dogfighting and cockfighting. Some states maintain absurdly low penalties for cockfighting. And dogfighting is still pervasive in some quarters—just two weeks ago Montana lawmakers rejected an effort to criminalize being a spectator at a dogfight.

But we can take heart in the fact that animal fighting laws are getting tougher, law enforcement is paying attention, and a growing chorus of voices is saying that this cruelty must end.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Montana: The Nation’s Safe Haven for Dogfighting Boosters

In 49 states all across America, it’s a crime to attend a dogfight. Our federal law also includes penalties for spectators who finance dogfights with their gambling wagers and admission fees.

There is a consensus in our country that animal fighting statutes should punish the entire cast of characters involved in the criminal enterprise, including the spectators who make it profitable.

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Frank Loftus/The HSUS

Which state is the one outlier? Montana. The Big Sky State is now the Big Dogfighting Spectator State.

Lawmakers there had an opportunity to close the dogfighting spectator loophole this year and bring Montana’s animal fighting laws into line with those of the rest of the nation.

The bipartisan legislation had passed the House by a vote of 74 to 25, but it failed yesterday—20 to 27—when the Senate took up the issue.

It’s shameful that 27 senators and 25 representatives voted to give dogfighting participants carte blanche.

They sided with criminals and with the nation’s most despicable form of cruelty.

Some of the opponents of this legislation raised the specter that penalties for dogfighting spectators could magically mutate into penalties for people who attend rodeos. Never mind that every other state in the West, where rodeo is popular, punishes people who attend dogfights. 

Most of them—like Colorado, Nevada, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming—have penalties for cockfighting spectators, too. None of those state laws have ever impacted rodeo, or anything other than illegal animal fights. Their argument is worse than folly.

The Billings Gazette was one of many papers that had demanded that legislators act and eliminate the state’s outlier status on this issue: 

Being a spectator at a dogfight also is illegal in 49 states. Montana is the only state that has failed to close this loophole that allows people to profit from horrendous violence against dogs…

The present statute already makes clear that “causing animals to fight” doesn’t include accepted husbandry practices in raising livestock or poultry, normal rodeo events or hunting.

Spectators provide much of the profit associated with dogfighting. The money generated by admission fees and gambling helps keep this “sport” alive. Because dogfights are illegal and therefore not widely publicized, spectators do not merely happen upon a fight; they seek it out. They are willing participants who support a criminal activity through their paid admission and attendance.

“If you don’t have a penalty for being a spectator, everyone becomes a spectator,” said the bill sponsor, Rep. Tom Richmond, R-Billings. “It’s like a kegger where everyone scatters.”

If you live in Montana, see how your senators and representatives voted on the bill. If they voted “yea,” they were on the side of cracking down on dogfighting and rooting this vicious cruelty out from our communities. If they voted “nay,” they sided with criminal dogfighters, and the bloodthirsty degenerates who enjoy watching these helpless animals forced into a pit to fight each other and slowly die of their injuries.

These legislators gave dogfighting enthusiasts a free pass, and they shouldn’t get a free pass from their constituents. 

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Animal Fighting Suffers a Knockdown

It’s been a big week in our major campaign to crack down on the brutal bloodsport of animal fighting.

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert signed a bill into law on Monday establishing felony penalties for repeat cockfighting offenders. Utah was previously the only state in the west without a felony cockfighting law, making it a magnet for animal fighters seeking to escape tougher punishment in neighboring states. Similar bills to fortify the law were blocked in the legislature for the past two years, but now Utah is the 42nd state with a felony cockfighting law.

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The HSUS

In Tennessee—one of only eight remaining states where cockfighting is a misdemeanor, and in the heart of the “cockfighting corridor”—the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee yesterday passed a bill to strengthen the penalties for attending or bringing a child to an animal fight.

The legislation had previously passed the state Senate by a landslide vote of 24 to 1, and we are urging the full House to approve it swiftly.

Over the weekend, The Humane Society of the United States assisted law enforcement in Marlboro County, South Carolina, in breaking up an active cockfight, resulting in the arrest of 27 suspected cockfighters and the rescue of 122 gamefowl and one emaciated pit bull with 10 puppies. Remarkably, the mother dog, Nina Louise, had been stolen from her home more than a year ago and was reunited with her owner, who had seen the news coverage of the cockfighting bust.

The Post and Courier in Charleston in an editorial yesterday called on South Carolina lawmakers to get tougher on cockfighting, quoting Marlboro County Sheriff Fred Knight: “The fights themselves are inhumane for the animals involved, but so many crimes come about at these events.” The paper reported that three children were present at the Marlboro raid.

Legislation advanced in the Montana Senate Judiciary Committee on Tuesday to close the loophole that made that state the last one in the Union where it’s legal to attend a dogfight. It had previously passed the House by a vote of 74 to 25.

We are very close to having a national policy whose purpose, as the Billings Gazette wrote in an editorial, “is to discourage animal fights, and to ensure that, if fights are held, the instigators will be held accountable.”

These are long-term battles, and we are marching state by state to close the gaps in the legal framework on animal fighting. Other state legislatures in Colorado, Pennsylvania, and Vermont are working to fortify their already strong animal fighting statutes this year.

In the mid-1980s, only a dozen states had felony dogfighting statutes and a half dozen still permitted legal cockfighting. Our movement lobbied state legislatures, and passed ballot measures against cockfighting in Arizona, Missouri, and Oklahoma, to make cockfighting illegal in every state and dogfighting a felony in every state.

We also worked with the U.S. Congress to upgrade the federal animal fighting statute four times in the last 12 years, making it a federal felony to fight animals, possess them for fighting, or to bring a child to an animal fighting spectacle.

There is a growing consensus in society that it’s wrong to force two animals into a pit to fight to the death, often pumped full of drugs to heighten their aggression, and with razor-sharp knives and weapons strapped to their legs, just to place gambling bets and entertain people who are titillated by the violence and bloodletting.

Even Matt Bevin, who as a U.S. Senate candidate last year spoke at a rally to legalize cockfighting in Kentucky, now says that cockfighting should be a felony in the state. These political changes are bringing us closer to eradicating dogfighting and cockfighting in the U.S., a day that cannot come soon enough.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Arizonans Rally to Keep Cruelty Code Intact

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

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The HSUS

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

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

He wrote:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Big Ag’s Power Grab in the Grand Canyon State

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

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The HSUS

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

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

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

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

As Linda Valdez wrote in the Arizona Republic,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, March 20, 2015

Tiger Loopholes Put People and Animals at Risk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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