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Monday, February 11, 2008

Animals Have Lost a True Friend with Lantos' Passing

Driving to work this morning, I heard the sad news that Congressman Tom Lantos (D-Calif.) had passed away from esophageal cancer. While Lantos will be remembered for many things—as an extraordinary public servant, as the only Holocaust survivor to serve as member of Congress, and as the powerful chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, to name a few—I will remember him as an extraordinary leader for the cause of animal protection. At every turn, he insisted that animal protection was not only a just cause but an urgent one. His leadership was based on his deep personal conviction that every animal matters and deserves our consideration.

Lantos was the founder and co-chairman of the Congressional Friends of Animals Caucus, along with Congressman Chris Shays (R-Conn.), which has held numerous briefings on the Hill to inform lawmakers and their staff about a wide range of animal issues from dogfighting to farm animal welfare.  He was the author of successful legislation enacted in 2006 in response to Hurricane Katrina, the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards (PETS) Act, to require the inclusion of pets and service animals in disaster plans. 

He led the passage of a House resolution last year calling on Canada to stop its annual massacre of hundreds of thousands of baby harp seals on the Atlantic coast. He has supported every major public policy involving animal protection in Congress, and has lent his strong voice to the cause of animals at every opportunity, whether calling on China to stop its misguided policies of killing pet dogs, or urging the National Football League to take strong disciplinary action against any athlete involved in dogfighting in the wake of the Michael Vick scandal.

Markarian_lantos1_3 My deepest condolences are extended to Annette Lantos, who has been by her husband’s side every step of the way. Both have been such stalwart allies to the cause.  I had the honor of presenting Congressman Lantos with our Humane Champion Award a couple years ago, and we were joined for the presentation in his office by his dog, Gigi, who was also a constant companion by his side and came to work with him on Capitol Hill.  Lantos will receive another honor posthumously, the Joseph Wood Krutch Medal, which is the highest honor awarded by The Humane Society of the United States, and Annette and Gigi undoubtedly will share that honor.

Knowing that so many of these challenges remain unsettled—that we are still working to combat dogfighting, that the Canadian seal hunt will take place again in a few weeks, and that so much cruelty continues in the world—I’m saddened that Tom Lantos will not be with us to carry on the fight.  But I’m eternally grateful that he dedicated decades of his life to this important cause, and that the policies he has shepherded have had a real and lasting impact on the lives of so many animals.

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