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December 2007

Monday, December 31, 2007

The Presidential Files: Barack Obama and the Dog-acity of Hope

Democratic Senator Barack Obama's 2006 book, "The Audacity of Hope," is a story about his dogged optimism in the future. But it's his other work of writing—this one in response to a Humane Society Legislative Fund questionnaire—that has given dogs and other animals hope in this country. 

At this time, three other presidential candidates—John Edwards, Dennis Kucinich, and Bill Richardson—have issued campaign statements telling voters where they stand on animal welfare. Obama's statement is a welcome addition, and it is an indicator of the growing importance of humane issues in presidential politics. We hope the other presidential candidates will let voters know where they stand on animal issues, too. 

In his questionnaire response, Obama pledges support for nearly every animal protection bill currently pending in Congress, and he says he will work with executive agencies such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture to make their policies more humane. He writes of the important role animals play in our lives, as companions in our homes, as wildlife in their own environments, and as service animals working with law enforcement and assisting persons with disabilities.

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Obama also comments on the broader links between animal cruelty and violence in society: "I've repeatedly voted to increase penalties for animal cruelty and violence and, importantly, to require psychological counseling for those who engage in this behavior as part of the punishment. In addition to being unacceptable in its own stead, violence towards animals is linked with violent behavior in general, especially domestic violence, and we need to acknowledge this connection and work to treat it. Strong penalties are important and I support them, but we know that incarceration alone can't solve all our problems. As president, I'd continue to make sure that we treat animal cruelty like the serious crime it is and address its connection to broader patterns of violence."

In his eight years as an Illinois state senator, Obama voted for at least a dozen animal protection laws that came up during that time. He supported measures, among others, to allow the creation of pet trusts to provide for the long-term care of companion animals; to upgrade the penalties for cruelty to animals; to require psychological counseling for people who abuse animals; to require that veterinarians report suspected acts of cruelty and animal fighting; and to ban the slaughter of horses for human consumption—which was significant because, at the time, Illinois was one of only two states (with Texas) where horse slaughter plants operated. 

After being elected to the U.S. Senate in 2004, Obama has continued his record of support for animal protection laws. He voted to end the federal funding of horse slaughter in 2005, and he is currently a co-sponsor of new legislation to stop horse slaughter and the export of horses for human consumption. He co-sponsored legislation which was enacted this May to upgrade the federal penalties for dogfighting and cockfighting, and he is a co-sponsor of new legislation to ban the possession of fighting dogs and being a spectator at a dogfight. He signed a letter requesting increased funds for the enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act, Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, and the federal animal fighting law, and he also sent a letter to the National Zoo expressing his concern for the care of Toni the elephant

Senator Obama scored 20 percent on the 2005 Humane Scorecard because he voted to end horse slaughter, but at the time, had not yet co-sponsored bills dealing with animal fighting, puppy mills, or downer livestock, or signed the enforcement funding letter. His score improved to 60 percent on the 2006 Humane Scorecard, as he signed onto the animal fighting bill and the funding letter. For 2007, Obama will receive credit on the scorecard for co-sponsoring the animal fighting and horse slaughter legislation, but he has not yet co-sponsored major animal welfare bills such as the Pet Safety and Protection Act

While Obama has said that he supports the rights of hunters and sportsmen, he has not gone out of his way to stress the point, and has not—as some other candidates have—dressed up in camo and gunned down animals with the television cameras in tow. Obama's personal interactions with animals, in fact, appear to be much more humane. He has joined the fight against puppy mills, and will appear in a new book by my friend Jana Kohl about her rescued dog, Baby, who survived a decade in a puppy mill.

And Obama has said that "as a condition for letting me run for President, my daughters Malia and Sasha extracted a promise from Michelle and I that they could get a dog after the election, win or lose. So they're heavily invested in this campaign, if only for it to be over so we can get our dog."

Now that's a photo op I'd like to see. 

Continue reading "The Presidential Files: Barack Obama and the Dog-acity of Hope" »

Friday, December 28, 2007

'Lobbying' is Not a Dirty Word

When I travel around the country and visit animal shelters and rescue organizations, I see first-hand the fantastic work that these groups do in their communities: animal adoptions, spaying and neutering, humane education, anti-cruelty law enforcement, and much more. But when I ask if local groups are involved in lobbying efforts to protect animals, I often hear the same response: “But we’re a nonprofit charity and we’re not allowed to lobby!”

It’s a common misperception, but it’s not true. Charitable groups can and should advocate for public policy changes. Gary D. Bass, executive director of OMB Watch, says that there is a long tradition of charitable advocacy and civic participation in this country: “Nonprofit lobbyists have been involved in nearly every major public policy accomplishment in this country—from civil rights to environmental protection to health care,” he told the Washington Post. “Tens of thousands of lives have been saved by passing laws that improve car safety and reduce drunk driving.”

Animal protection groups have also made major progress through lobbying. In fact, animal shelter and rescue groups can offer resources and expertise to lawmakers, and are often the best judges of how public policies could help address problems in their communities. Would a spay and neuter bill reduce the number of unwanted pets euthanized in local shelters? Is dogfighting on the rise and are tougher penalties needed? Would restrictions on the private ownership of exotic wildlife make the community safer?

Nonprofit groups can make the case to lawmakers on these issues, but there are limits on how much lobbying they can do. Any animal protection group that is going to be involved in lobbying should consult its own attorneys and accountants. But in general, most animal protection groups are registered under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Service code, meaning that the groups are tax-exempt and their donors receive a tax deduction; in exchange, the groups have to abide by rules and caps governing their advocacy work.

Any 501(c)(3) charity can advocate for or against legislation at the federal, state, or local level, but lobbying must not be a substantial part of the group’s activities or must not exceed a set expenditure cap. The group can also advocate for or against issues on the ballot, which could include gathering signatures for a ballot initiative, informing its members about the proposal, or donating directly to a ballot committee. There is a strict prohibition, however, on 501(c)(3) groups advocating for or against the election of individual lawmakers, or donating to political candidates.

The Humane Society Legislative Fund was organized as a 501(c)(4) social welfare organization, so it operates under different guidelines. It has no limit on its lobbying activity, and can engage in some advocacy in candidate elections. Other types of groups such as 527s and Political Action Committees follow different rules. But none of this diminishes the importance of 501(c)(3) nonprofit charities exercising their rights to advocate for legislative reforms to the extent allowable.

The Alliance for Justice offers plenty of resources for charities, foundations, and others on understanding the lobbying rules and restrictions. And once you know that you can lobby, there are other resources such as the AdVocacy Guru which can help teach you how to lobby effectively.

But keep in mind, when you hear the word “lobbying,” it’s not just Jack Abramoff and abuses of the system that should come to mind. Advocating for public policy reforms is not only allowed, it’s part of our civic duty.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Presidential Files: Bill Richardson's Animal Magnetism in the Land of Enchantment

When animal advocates survey the field of presidential candidates, there is a lot of parity among those who have served in Congress. Joe Biden, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Chris Dodd, John Edwards, Dennis Kucinich, John McCain, and Barack Obama have all been supporters of animal welfare. But when you look at the three candidates who have served as governors, only one chief executive has advanced the cause of animal welfare in his home state in a meaningful way. 

Mike Huckabee impeded animal welfare in Arkansas, and even attempted to impede an investigation into an act of cruelty allegedly committed by his son. (Yesterday, Huckabee traipsed around an Iowa corn field and shot a pheasant in his continuing efforts to pander to the NRA and the sport hunting lobby.) Mitt Romney doesn't have Huckabee's terrible record, but he was no friend to animals in Massachusetts, even though his state has one of the highest percentages of animal advocates in the country. But in New Mexico, Bill Richardson has managed to implement path-breaking reforms and exhibit real leadership on humane issues.

At the end of 2006, Gov. Richardson announced a precedent-setting animal protection package for the state. The ten-point plan included a multi-million dollar expenditure for animal protection projects, such as animal shelter improvements, spay/neuter and adoption programs, sanctuaries for neglected horses, a wildlife law center, and humane education in public schools. The comprehensive proposal is a model for what other states should seek to achieve, and if it can be done in New Mexico—one of the poorest and least populated states in the country—there is no excuse for others not to follow suit. During Richardson's tenure, he has provided more than ten million dollars for wildlife conservation, animal shelters, animal control, spay/neuter projects, cruelty investigations, and other animal welfare programs.

Richardson followed the animal protection package by diving into a hotly250x200_rooster_stockxpert contested legislative debate. He publicly advocated for a ban on cockfighting, and this year New Mexico became the 49th state to outlaw the practice (quickly followed by Louisiana, which became 50th). Some people argue that it was too little too late, and the state should have acted much sooner—after all, 35 states banned cockfighting before New Mexico even joined the union in 1912. But animal advocates had been fighting this battle for two decades in New Mexico, and it was only when Gov. Richardson entered the fray with his active support and his considerable lobbying abilities that the ban was actually achieved.

The governor also reacted strongly this year when a high school student's science fair project—under the guidance of the University of New Mexico—involved the cruel treatment of animals.  Mice were forced to swim until nearly drowning, hung by their tails with adhesive tape, and electrically shocked, all to measure hopelessness and depression. Richardson called for a full investigation and urged laboratory animal reforms at research universities. Among other animal protection bills that passed under Richardson's watch, New Mexico enacted Scooby's Law to require the addition of a bittering agent in antifreeze to prevent the poisoning of children and pets and the Animal Sheltering Services Act to set standards for the practice of euthanasia at shelters.For the governor's work to protect animals, he received a 2007 Milagro Award from Animal Protection of New Mexico. 

250x200_oryx_stockxpert_3 Of course, very few candidates are perfect on animal issues. The governor created the New Mexico Rodeo Council in 2005 and since then has allocated hundreds of thousands of dollars to promote rodeo and construct new facilities. The Associated Press reported this summer that Richardson considers himself a "recreational hunter," and the governor's office provided a photo of an exotic oryx he shot in 2005 at a captive hunting ranch. Like a few other candidates, Richardson is promoting his hunting bona fides and bragging about his prowess as a sportsman. We wish the presidential hopefuls would go to the Animal Rescue League of Iowa and adopt a dog or cat to show their compassion, instead. 

On balance, Bill Richardson has moved the needle forward for animals in the Land of Enchantment. He has set a new standard for action on animal protection issues by a sitting governor, despite lapses on important issues like hunting and rodeo.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Presidential Files: Ron Paul and Michael Vick

Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul is on fire.  He broke records last week for raising more than $6 million online in a 24-hour period.  What was once a fringe campaign is now hiring more staff and opening more offices.  I suspect that some animal advocates have gravitated toward Paul because of his anti-war, populist rhetoric.

But they may not know about his terrible record in Congress—driven by an attitude that the federal government (and perhaps local or state government, too) should not play a role in protecting animals from cruelty.  Rep. Paul is one of only 31 members of the U.S. House of Representatives who voted against every single animal protection measure that came up for a vote in 2007.  He voted in March to keep the federal penalties weak for dogfighting and cockfighting, providing some great pocket protection for would-be Michael Vicks.  He voted in April against restoring the decades-old protections for wild horses and burros, instead opting to allow these majestic creatures to be sold for commercial slaughter. And he voted in June to allow wealthy American trophy hunters to shoot polar bears in the Arctic and bring their heads and hides back home.  It doesn’t get much worse than that, and only 30 other lawmakers—the bottom 7 percent of Congress, you might say—have matched Ron Paul’s opposition to animal welfare in 2007.

It hasn’t always been this way for Ron Paul.  He did vote, several years ago, to cut funding for several government programs that harm animals, such as lethal predator control, trapping on national wildlife refuges, and trophy hunting programs in foreign countries.  But it seems the small-government, tax-cutting approach worked for him on those particular issues.  In general, libertarians like Paul don’t want to see laws enacted that restrict personal behavior, even if that behavior may involve dogfighting or eating mustangs.

There are people out there, unfortunately, who take advantage of animals for their own selfish motives—whether fun or profit or sadism—and we need strong laws to stop those individuals from doing harm. The Michael Vick case showed America why animal protection laws are needed, and how the justice system can work.  If animal advocates are jumping on the Ron Paul bandwagon, they might want to get off.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Stories to Warm the Holiday Season

In the spirit of Christmas, I’m going to take a short break from presidential politics, and share a pair of stories that inspired me this year.  They are stories about two members of Congress, from different political parties, who both helped American families remember their loved ones and celebrate the human-animal bond.

An eight-year-old German shepherd named Lex had been serving in the Marine Corps, living and working side-by-side with his human partner, a 20-year-old corporal named Dustin Jerome Lee, from Quitman, Miss.  When Dustin was killed by a mortar attack in Fallujah, Iraq, earlier this year, Lex—also injured—had to be pulled away whimpering from the young marine. 

Dustin’s family knew what a strong bond had developed between the slain marine and his canine partner, and they wanted to adopt Lex. But the military said that the bomb-sniffing dog still had two years of service left. The Lee family lobbied the military for months and launched an Internet petition. Finally, they were successful, thanks to the intervention of U.S. Rep. Walter Jones, Jr. (R-N.C.), who went directly to the Marine Corps’ top brass. 

Lex joined the Lee family in Mississippi last week, and it’s the first time a military dog has ever been given early retirement to be adopted by someone other than the dog’s handler. As Congressman Jones said, “The way I look at this, dogs are being trained every day to be a part of the armed forces. This family gave their son for their country. This is a small gift back to them.”

Hero is welcomed home
Hero is welcomed home by Rep. Paul Hodes (left),
Brittney Murray and DHL employees.

A remarkably similar story took place earlier in the year, when 22-year-old Justin Rollins, an Army specialist from Newport, N.H., rescued a stray puppy from the streets outside an Iraqi police station in Samarra.  Justin was killed the next day by a roadside bomb.  But the night before he died, he called his family and told them about the puppy, named Hero, and that he wanted to bring her home. 

After Justin was killed, his fiancée, Brittney Murray, contacted U.S. Rep. Paul Hodes (D-N.H.) and asked for his help.  Hodes had to find a way to locate a puppy in a war zone, and he negotiated with the 82nd Airborne Division, the Iraqi Embassy, U.S. Customs, the cargo company DHL, and other military officials to obtain the permission and transportation necessary to bring Hero back to New Hampshire.

As Congressman Hodes said, “Given the sacrifice that the Rollins’ made for our country, the least we can do for them is cut some red tape and provide them with this bit of comfort.” The effort was successful, and Hero arrived in New Hampshire this May.

Thank you to Congressman Jones and Congressman Hodes for recognizing the importance of the comfort and joy that animals bring to our lives, and for working to bring some of this comfort and joy to families who lost a loved one overseas.  Happy holidays to all of you, and best wishes for the New Year.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Talk Back: Huckabee's Record

Last night, I hosted a meeting of about 50 animal advocates in Des Moines, Iowa, at the fantastic Animal Rescue League South adoption center.  Iowa is only two weeks away from the nation’s first presidential caucuses, and voters in that state have a unique opportunity to influence the presidential candidates on animal protection issues.

They also have a unique opportunity to shape federal animal welfare policy, as one of their Senators, Tom Harkin, is Chairman of the Agriculture Committee—which has just passed several animal welfare provisions in the Farm Bill—and the other, Charles Grassley, is Ranking Member of the Finance Committee.  We had a great and lively discussion about the importance of Iowa citizens getting involved in legislative and political advocacy for animals.

But you don’t have to live in Iowa to have a voice on these matters.  Many readers wrote in response to my columns on the presidential candidates—specifically the posting on Mike Huckabee—and here’s a sampling of the comments we received:

I am urging all of you out there to email your favorite news channel and ask them to investigate these allegations. Let them know that the voting public takes this issue seriously. We animal-lovers are an extensive network, and we should do our part by forwarding this HSLF newsletter to all our contacts. —Kelly 

I am outraged that you would use the actions of a son to do a political hit on anyone. This action makes me ashamed that someone in the leadership Humane Society (a group I support) would rationalize hitting a candidate based the actions of their son. Keep the focus on the candidate's own actions. —Larry

I appreciate your call to arms for people of faith. My belief is that animals are a treasured part of God's creation and that one of the ways in which we are called to be "good stewards" is by protecting their welfare. That a governor and former pastor can display such an utter lack of compassion, coupled with clearly questionable values, seems to be an indication of a much deeper social problem. In my opinion, someone like this should not even be in office, but unfortunately, politicians are often corrupt and self-interested. Protecting the welfare of animals is just a step toward a better global community. Thanks for keeping up with your blog! —Tara

If I can't trust him with my dog, how can I trust him with my country? —Jeannie

Well, if Huckabee thinks that animal cruelty is not worth a more severe punishment then I guess he stands the same when it comes to child or spouse abuse because that is what usually follows animal abuse. The offender begins with the animals then moves on to more interesting prey. THAT is the sad part. If you try to nip it in the bud you have a better chance of preventing further abuse but he doesn't care. So sad. —Gena

A nation's greatness is measured by its humanity toward the weak and helpless, such as its elderly, children and animals. Politicians who would stand silent on the issues of protection for children and animals are not fit to serve the public. We need leadership with compassion not a passion for blood sport. Thank you for uncovering the true Mike Huckabee. —Michele

I absolutely agree that cruelty to animals must be prosecuted and punished severely and never tolerated or looked upon with apathy. People who respect other living beings respect other people, show compassion and concern. Animals have just as much a right to be on this planet as humans. Humans are not the all mighty know it all, more important species on this earth. —Mary-Frances

I do not believe that many things that a child does is a direct result of his upbringing, but I do believe one's attitude about life and respect of all creatures IS!! A parent may teach some values that the child may choose not to follow but do any of you know someone with a moral upbringing who would torture an animal?? NO, is the answer. In my opinion, an apology is not going to make a difference. Can he truly say that his child didn't develop his disrespect of life from the people who have the most influence, the parents? —Jenell

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The Presidential Files: John Edwards on Animals and Rural America

Former Democratic Senator John Edwards has found himself in the center of the debate over factory farming.  When Edwards first ran for the U.S. Senate in 1998, he defeated Republican incumbent Lauch Faircloth, who had been a large-scale, commercial hog farmer and operated in the second-largest hog-producing state.  Now, Edwards is spending much of his time in the number one hog-producing state, Iowa, and is running on a platform of protecting small farmers and rural communities from the environmental pollution and economic devastation caused by agribusiness.

Each year in the U.S., animals confined in industrial factory farms produce almost 500 million tons of manure, which frequently pollutes water and air and, in the process, harms rural communities.  Factory farm waste also emits greenhouse gases, contributing to climate change, and takes a toll on public health, too. In 2003, the American Public Health Association passed a resolution urging officials nationwide to adopt a moratorium on factory farms. Studies have found that neighbors report more frequent occurrences of headaches, excessive coughing, diarrhea, and burning eyes as well as respiratory problems, weakness, and nausea. Furthermore, recent studies have found that children who attend schools near factory farms suffer increased incidences of asthma.

200x200lotsofpigs_crowded It’s a real quality of life issue for people who live near factory farms, and Edwards’ credible background from an agricultural state and his attention to this issue appears to resonate in Iowa.  Earlier this year, he unveiled a "Hogs for Edwards" float in the Iowa State Fair Parade, and called for a national moratorium on the construction or expansion of concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs).  Edwards helped make factory farms part of the public discourse in Iowa, and it’s prompted other leading candidates such as Senators Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama to come out with their own proposals to set restrictions on CAFOs and give local communities more control over where they’re built. To see presidential candidates with competing proposals on the scale of agriculture is a sign that this issue is gaining traction with voters, especially rural voters who are plagued by the rancid odors and fouled water spawned by factory farms in their communities.

Given Edwards’ attention to rural communities, it was not too surprising—though it was disappointing to animal advocates—that he became the latest presidential candidate to trot out his hunting bonafides.  It’s a wonder that candidates still feel obligated to pander to the gun lobby, especially as the number of hunters has been on a steady decline for decades.  According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, hunters now represent 5.5 percent of Americans 16 years and older, while wildlife watchers outnumber them by almost six-to-one, making up 31 percent.  Even in a rural state like Iowa, hunters are only 9.1 percent of adult residents, while wildlife watchers are 47.5 percent. Wildlife watchers also contribute more money than hunters to the economy.

To Edwards’ credit, his “Hunting and Fishing Bill of Rights and Responsibilities” is as much about the responsibilities of hunters as it is about the right to hunt.  He proposed several good ideas, such as setting up a commission to study the impacts of commercial game farms and captive hunting operations on native wildlife, and enforcing the Clean Water Act to protect lakes, streams, and oceans.

But there were terrible ideas, too.  Edwards suggested opening national parks to sport hunters, which would set a dangerous precedent.  There is a balancing of interests among public land users, and millions of acres of federal lands—national wildlife refuges, national forests, Bureau of Land Management lands—are already open to hunting.  National parks are among the few lands left where animals can have a respite from sport hunting, and where hikers, campers, wildlife watchers, and other park visitors—who have their own claim to nature’s beauty and bounty—can enjoy these wonders in relative quiet and safety. 

On a more positive note, Edwards also made an effort to reach out to the growing number of voters who care about the humane treatment of animals, and he was one of the first presidential candidates to release a statement on animal welfare.  In the policy statement, Edwards wrote about his three dogs—Bella, Rufus, and Lily—and the joy that animals bring to our lives.  He also outlined specific bills that he supported and co-sponsored when he served in the Senate, including legislation to stop cockfighting, bear poaching, and the processing of “downer” livestock.  And he expressed his support for other federal reforms, such as restricting abusive puppy mills, ensuring the safety of pet food, and stopping the trade in pet primates. 

During Edwards’ six years in the Senate, he also voted to protect dolphins from tuna nets and prevent drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and he signed letters urging increased funding for the enforcement of animal welfare laws. He wasn’t with animal advocates every time—he voted, for example, in favor of using steel-jawed leghold traps and neck snares for commercial and recreational trapping on national wildlife refuges. But he was with the animals more times than not, and importantly, he has let voters know where he stands on animal welfare issues. I hope other presidential candidates will follow that example.

Monday, December 17, 2007

The Presidential Files: Mike Huckabee's Do-Nothing Approach to Protecting Animals

The presidential primaries are nearly upon us, and it’s time to take stock of the candidates on animal protection issues. The Humane Society Legislative Fund has queried all the major candidates and asked for their positions on animal welfare, and has also examined the records of those who served in Congress or as governor.   

For this first entry I’m going to take a look at former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, who has been surging in the polls and who is in the news today for his son’s alleged history of animal cruelty.  Huckabee was the state’s chief executive for more than a decade, and was largely viewed by animal advocates as an impediment to moderate reforms, or at the very least, someone who never lifted a finger to advance animal welfare.  The governor’s record on animal issues was further tarnished in 1998 when the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported that Huckabee’s 17-year-old son, David, was fired from his job as a Boy Scout camp counselor because he and another teen allegedly killed a stray dog.  Animal protection groups reported that the boys hanged the dog, slit his throat, and stoned him to death—but the teens were never charged with any crime.

I generally believe the lives of candidates’ family members are off limits, and I cringe every time the media scrutinizes Chelsea Clinton or the Bush twins. But there are some aspects of history that are pertinent, and this is one of them. It’s especially relevant because it has policy implications on animal cruelty issues, and there are accusations that Governor Huckabee personally mishandled the situation. And for HSLF, any indication of a family tolerance for malicious animal cruelty sets off alarm bells—cruelty to animals is a sign of an empathic disconnect and is often an indicator of broader violent tendencies.

The story about Huckabee's son has been circulating on some blogs, like Dogster for the Love of Dog Blog and The Real Mike Huckabee, but new information has come to light. At the time of the camp incident, a local prosecutor apparently asked the Arkansas State Police to investigate whether David Huckabee violated state anti-cruelty laws. Newsweek broke the story this week that the former director of the state police, John Bailey, says that Huckabee’s chief of staff and personal attorney leaned on him to drop the investigation.  According to Bailey, he refused to play ball, and was fired seven months later. It seems that the governor tried to stop the state police from investigating the cruelty charges against his son, and Bailey’s story is corroborated by the former FBI chief in Little Rock. 

At worst, the governor acted unethically and obstructed the police investigation, but even at best, Huckabee and his staff took a “boys will be boys” attitude toward malicious animal abuse.  The governor’s then-chief of staff Brenda Turner belittled the accusations, asking, “Is it normal for the state police to…investigate something that happened at a Boy Scout camp?” Well, it should be. The public wants nothing less, in fact. The Michael Vick case demonstrates what happens when the justice system is allowed to work and when animal cruelty is taken seriously—a star quarterback is brought down to serve a 23-month prison sentence, an example for countless thousands of young Americans. The Huckabee case shows what happens when the system is thwarted—or when cruelty doesn't occupy a serious place in the political arena.   

This flippant attitude toward a heinous act has apparently presented itself in Huckabee's views toward state policies on cruelty to animals. During Huckabee’s administration, Arkansas state lawmakers tried several times to pass legislation upgrading the state’s anti-cruelty law from a misdemeanor to a felony offense. Armed with studies about the link between cruelty to animals and violence toward people—and recent incidents that had horrified people across the state, such as kittens thrown from a vehicle and the torture and decapitation of dogs—animal advocates hoped that Arkansas would join the growing number of states that provided a strong deterrent to animal abuse. They received no help from the governor, and were unsuccessful every time. Stymied by the legislative process, animal advocates collected signatures to place an anti-cruelty and anti-cockfighting measure on the statewide ballot in 2002, asking the state’s voters to do what lawmakers would not.

All that came from Huckabee during the ballot campaign was a deafening silence. The measure went down in flames, largely because of a scorched earth campaign run by groups such as the Arkansas Farm Bureau, Arkansas Cattlemen’s Association, Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, and Ducks Unlimited—groups with which Huckabee associates himself—falsely claiming that this modest proposal to upgrade the penalties for animal cruelty would have adversely impacted hunting, fishing, farming, and other Arkansas traditions. The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, a staunchly conservative newspaper, opined again and again in favor of the measure, but it was not enough to counter the misinformation. And Governor Huckabee stood on the sidelines the entire time—a glaring failure of leadership to be sure and perhaps a marker of his own hostile views about animals.

Arkansas is now one of only seven states that consider deliberate, malicious acts of cruelty to animals a misdemeanor offense.  Setting fire to a painting of a dog is a more serious crime in Arkansas than burning the dog himself.  In 43 states—including all the early primary states like Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, and South Carolina—animal cruelty is a felony, because voters and lawmakers have decided that it’s a serious crime that deserves serious consequences.  In fact, 29 of those 43 felony cruelty laws have been passed during the last decade, while Huckabee and Arkansas did nothing.   

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Huckabee’s pandering to the sport hunting lobby. It’s not uncommon for presidential candidates to play up their sportsmen’s bonafides. But for Huckabee, it seems to be a standard talking point. His first television ad in Iowa aired in November and featured action star Chuck Norris, who stated, “Mike Huckabee is a lifelong hunter…”  And during a speech to the NRA in September, Huckabee sounded almost giddy when he talked about shooting a bullet that was guided by angels to pierce an antelope, and he exclaimed, “I’m pretty sure there will be duck hunting in heaven, and I can’t wait.”  The Daily Show’s Jon Stewart had fun with this, and asked, “Governor, are you saying that our heaven is duck hell? Is there any place a duck can go to not get shot?”

A former pastor, Huckabee makes a special appeal to people of faith. At HSLF, we do the same. Some animal protection groups are launching new programs that specifically aim to engage religious people and institutions on the principles of mercy and compassion. Americans of conviction bear a moral responsibility to the vulnerable and the weak.

The hunting lines might be laughable, but there’s nothing funny about an alleged family history of cruelty to animals, or the suggestion that the governor obstructed justice. Huckabee should apologize or explain the specifics regarding the camp cruelty allegations. Call his Iowa campaign office at 515-288-3708 and tell him that animal abuse is a serious crime, not a laughing matter.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

From Russia Without Love

This week, The Humane Society of the United States released a months-long undercover investigation into the puppy mill and pet store industry.  Investigators found that a glitzy Hollywood pet store—where Paris Hilton, Britney Spears, and other celebrities have bought pooches—is selling dogs from abusive puppy mills in Arkansas, Kansas, and Oklahoma. The story was covered by the Los Angeles Times, New York Times, CBS Early Show, TMZ, and other blogs and news outlets, informing millions of Americans that buying a cute puppy from a pet store or over the Internet is the economic driver that keeps puppy mills churning.

These factory farms keep hundreds of breeding dogs stacked in wire cages, and treat them not like members of the family, but like production machines.  Store owners often lie to customers and say they don't buy from puppy mills and only use responsible breeders, but this investigation and others have revealed that it's just not true.  Customers who adore those puppy dog eyes unwittingly support a cruel industry, and end up with dogs who may become sick or die because of genetic defects and irresponsible breeding.

Appeal_text_box_puppymills Puppy mills are scattered across the United States, especially in the Midwest and the South, but an even uglier and lesser known aspect of the puppy mill problem is the emerging foreign industry. Puppy mills in Russia, China, Mexico, and other countries see the United States as a potential market, and they breed thousands of puppies for American pet stores, Internet sellers, or commercial breeders selling directly to the public. People may pay a high price for a special breed said to be from Europe or Asia, but the dogs are raised in especially inhumane conditions since there is little to no regulatory oversight of puppy mills in these countries. 

The puppies, typically younger than ten weeks old, endure harsh, long-distance air transport, crammed tightly into cargo containers and often exposed to extreme temperatures. As a result, many puppies arrive dead or seriously ill and unable to recover, while others become sick and die soon after being sold to an American family. A veterinary clinic associated with JFK airport in New York reports as many as 10 to 15 percent of puppies are dead on arrival.  The Centers for Disease Control office at LAX in Los Angeles estimates that more than 7,000 puppies are received annually, and that is just one point of entry. 

Fortunately, as the Senate works on the massive Farm Bill this week, we are one step closer to shutting down imports of foreign puppy mill dogs.  Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), the Majority Whip, worked closely with HSLF and HSUS to include an amendment requiring that any dog imported into the United States for commercial sale be at least six months old.  The Durbin amendment will stop the worst abuses in the industry and ensure that young, unweaned puppies are not forced to endure this cruel treatment for profit.  We are grateful to Sen. Durbin for his leadership in cracking down on abusive puppy mills, and to Rep. Sam Farr (D-Calif.), Rep. Jim Gerlach (R-Pa.) and Rep. Terry Everett (R-Ala.) who have been leading the fight in the House.

And there are two other amendments we have been backing in the Farm Bill: One, by Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), will make dogfighting a federal felony nationwide, and will ban the possession, training, and breeding of dogs for the purpose of fighting.  Several states have loopholes in their anti-dogfighting laws that allow people to possess fighting dogs, so this federal action will help knock out these cruel and degrading spectacles.  Another amendment by Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii) will phase-out the use of "random source" dogs and cats—often family pets stolen or obtained through fraudulent response to "free to good home" ads—sold by Class B dealers to researchers for experimentation.  A similar amendment, advanced by Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Pa.) and Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), was already included in the House version of the Farm Bill. 

All three pet protection amendments—on puppy imports, dogfighting, and Class B dealers—have been agreed to as part of the managers' amendment to the Farm Bill, and the Senate hopes to complete action on the bill this week.  We’re grateful to all of our congressional sponsors, and to Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) and Ranking Member Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), for making these important animal welfare reforms part of the Farm Bill agenda. We look forward to working with them, as well as the Agriculture Committee leaders in the House—Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) and Robert Goodlatte (R-Va.)—to see these reforms enacted into law soon on the final Farm Bill.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Animal Cruelty Needs to be Tracked

Today, NFL quarterback Michael Vick was sentenced to 23 months in federal prison for his part in a multi-state dogfighting ring.  While animal fighting is an organized form of animal cruelty—with promoters, breeders, trainers, spectators, and bettors forming an underground crime syndicate—individual acts of cruelty are just as horrible.  We have all seen the news reports and heard the shocking stories of people who put pets in microwaves, throw them off balconies, drag them with cars, set them on fire, beat them, stab them, or kill them or maim them in other sickening ways. Crimes against animals are so much in the spotlight that they’ve been featured on “America’s Most Wanted” and have warranted a regular series in the “National Enquirer.”

As a society, we are treating such acts of cruelty with more gravity than ever before.  All 50 states have anti-cruelty laws, and 43 now provide felony-level penalties for malicious acts toward animals. During the 1980s, in developing profiles of serial killers, the FBI’s Behavioral Crime Unit discovered that all serial killers had engaged in repeated acts of animal cruelty. Further decades of research have illustrated the link between animal cruelty and domestic violence.  One recent study found that pet abuse could predict who would become a batterer. We now know childhood animal cruelty is associated with the persistence of anti-social, aggressive behavior.

It stands to reason, then, that the more our law enforcement agencies know about people who are cruel to animals, the more they can do to prevent those same people from committing other violent crimes. But it’s the FBI’s crime data reporting system—including the Uniform Crime Reporting Program, the National Incident-Based Reporting System, and the yet-to-be released Law Enforcement National Data Exchange (N-DEx)—that drives the collection of crime statistics by police agencies around the country. The system currently does not list cruelty to animals as a separate offense category, and local police agencies do not have a place in their reporting forms to enter animal cruelty crimes. The result is that these crimes are assigned to miscellaneous categories, and no information on animal cruelty can be retrieved, studied, and used to guide law enforcement agents and lawmakers on the allocation of resources or policy development.

This will hopefully change, as Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) today introduced the Tracking Animal Cruelty Crimes Act of 2007 (S. 2439) which would add animal cruelty as a separate offense category in the FBI’s crime data reporting system. Sen. Menendez has been a longtime advocate for animals, and in 2000, when he served in the House of Representatives, he led the successful effort for a new law requiring airlines to track incidents involving the safety of pets traveling in cargo holds. He was joined today in introducing the animal cruelty tracking bill by Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.), Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) and Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.).  In the House of Representatives, Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) have been leading the charge for this important change.

It’s an accepted principle that those who are kind to animals are also kind to people, and those who are cruel to animals are a threat to society and may commit other violent crimes.  Having the ability to track animal cruelty cases anywhere in the country is a long overdue step that would not only help animals, but would also give law enforcement agencies the tools they need to prevent violent offenders from escalating their terrible behavior. Congress should quickly pass Sen. Menendez’s anti-crime bill, for the sake of animals, and for public safety and security in our communities.   

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