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.
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.