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April 2013

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Felony Cruelty Laws in 49 States and Counting

This week, Gov. Jack Dalrymple signed Senate Bill 2211 into law, making North Dakota the 49th state in the nation to establish some felony-level penalties for malicious acts of animal cruelty. It was a long time coming, and a follow up to last year’s Measure 5 campaign, which put the issue of animal cruelty on the public agenda and spurred action by state lawmakers.

Every major newspaper in the state called on legislators to honor their word to voters and get the job done, or else prepare for another ballot initiative in 2014. The bill was watered down by the North Dakota Farm Bureau and other agribusiness interests during the legislative process, and fell short of the comprehensive reform that was promised to voters, but it’s a major step forward and is cause for celebration.

PuppyNow, only one state in the nation remains without any felony law for even the most vicious and intentional acts of cruelty: South Dakota. In the broader sense, it has been a tremendous march of progress over the last three decades, as animal advocates across the country have worked to upgrade and fortify the state anti-cruelty statutes, and have completely reshaped the legal framework on crimes against animals.

Prior to 1986, only four states (Massachusetts, Michigan, Oklahoma and Rhode Island) had felony provisions for animal cruelty. Since then, 45 states have taken action to enact felony penalties for malicious acts of cruelty—an average of five new states every three years. In the last decade alone, eleven states have moved from the misdemeanor to felony category—Kentucky, West Virginia and Wyoming (2003), Kansas (2006), Hawaii (2007), Alaska and Utah (2008), Arkansas (2009), Mississippi (2010), Idaho (2012) and North Dakota (2013).

Research indicates that people who abuse and kill animals are more likely to similarly abuse humans, and animal cruelty is a known predictor and indicator of other violent crimes. Studies have found that there was animal abuse in 88 percent of families who were under state supervision due to the physical abuse of their children, and a U.S. Department of Justice study beginning in 1987 found that animal abuse predicted which children would exhibit anti-social and aggressive behavior later in childhood, adolescence, and then adulthood. Passage of felony-level animal cruelty laws is a critical initial step in halting the progression of violent crime before it escalates.

Now that all but one state have felony cruelty laws, our movement must focus on South Dakota, which has become an outlier because of its weak penalties for malicious cruelty. And now that stronger laws are on the books in so many states, we must focus on training programs for police, sheriffs, and prosecutors on effective investigation, case-building, and prosecution of animal cruelty, to make sure the statutes are properly utilized and adequately enforced.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Urge Congress to Help Hundreds of Millions of Hens

Today in the U.S. Congress, a bipartisan group of lawmakers led by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Reps. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., Jeff Denham, R-Calif., Sam Farr, D-Calif., and Mike Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., reintroduced legislation that ratifies a national agreement between the egg industry and animal welfare groups to improve the treatment of 280 million laying hens. Under the terms of the bill, the entire U.S. egg industry would be transformed and would phase out barren battery cages where hens can barely move an inch for their entire lives. 

The measure would also provide the following improvements: each hen would have nearly double the current amount of space and environmental enrichments such as perches, nests and scratch pads so they can engage in more natural behaviors; it would ban inhumane methods of euthanasia and forced starvation molting; and it would require a national egg carton labeling program to give consumers more information about how hens are raised so they can make informed purchasing decisions in the marketplace.

HenCongress deals with so many polarizing issues every day, whether it’s health care, immigration, or the deficit. They are often unsuccessful in efforts (or don’t even try) to pull opposing sides into a room and negotiate a compromise. But here is an issue where the bulk of that work has been done and all the major stakeholders have already reached an agreement that improves animal welfare, helps consumers, and is good for egg producers and the economy. The legislation is backed by an unusually broad and diverse coalition of supporters, including animal protection, egg industry, veterinary, and consumer organizations. The nation needs this kind of consensus problem solving, and Congress should enthusiastically embrace it.

The only major opposition to the bill comes from some segments of the pork and beef lobbying groups, who don’t want to see any “precedent” for the federal government getting involved in animal welfare. Never mind that federal law already includes standards on transport and slaughter of livestock, that these same industries are all too happy to take federal tax dollars in the form of subsidies and to have federal laws covering various other aspects of animal agriculture policy, and that the only industry that is actually impacted by this egg legislation is strongly in favor of it.

With the House and the Senate both planning to take up the Farm Bill in the next few weeks, it’s critically important that your Senators and Representative hear from you in support of the Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments. Please call them at (202) 224-3121 and ask them to support this common-sense legislation to help consumers, farmers, and hundreds of millions of animals.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Hold the Line on Animal Welfare Funding

Congress has made important progress over the years addressing serious gaps in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s enforcement of key animal welfare laws by providing the agency much-needed funding to allow for better inspection programs. The USDA’s own Inspector General had issued damning audits in late 2010 regarding the agency’s woefully lax oversight of puppy mills under the Animal Welfare Act, and its weak efforts to rein in the cruel practice of “soring” show horses (deliberately inflicting severe pain on the horses’ legs and hooves to make it hurt for them to step down, so they will exaggerate their high-stepping gait and win prizes), which is prohibited under the Horse Protection Act. Despite intense budget pressures, Congress responded to these concerns—in 2011, it enacted significant increases in USDA’s budget to improve enforcement of both the AWA and the HPA, building on modest gains since 1999. But for 2012, Congress passed a budget with a 2.5 percent across-the-board cut for all USDA programs, including those affecting animal welfare.

HorseNow Congress is gearing up to consider the Fiscal Year 2014 appropriations bills. Every agency program has some political support in Washington, or it would never have been funded in the first place, and those programs and their supporters are competing for finite dollars. The budget pressures haven’t gone away, but neither have the terrible problems at puppy mills or in the horse soring industry, nor the pressing need for adequate oversight of other facilities covered by the AWA, such as laboratories, roadside zoos, and circuses. We must ensure that Congress doesn’t further erode the critical gains of the past decade.

There are other areas that can be cut, as we have proposed  to Congress as it considers ways to reduce the deficit—for example, warehousing chimpanzees in costly laboratory cages; rounding up wild horses to keep them in long-term holding pens; using inefficient, unreliable, very costly, and cruel animal testing when much better alternative methods are available; taxpayer-financed poisoning of wildlife; and massive subsidies for wealthy operators of huge factory farms.

Congress can achieve macro-level cuts while still taking care to ensure that specific small and vital accounts have the funds they need. Whether an animal welfare law will be effective often turns on whether it gets adequately funded. Having legislators seek that funding is crucial, especially when there are strong competing budget pressures as there are now. Our fortunes are intertwined with those of animals, and proper enforcement not only helps these creatures but also helps to protect consumers and improve food safety, public health, disaster preparedness, and other social concerns.

Last week, Congressmen Chris Smith, R-N.J., and Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., delivered a letter to the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee seeking funds in Fiscal Year 2014 to hold the line on last year’s funding levels for enforcement of key animal welfare laws. It demonstrated exceptional support for these needs, with a bipartisan group of 164 Representatives joining the effort. We are grateful to these lawmakers for making the case for important enforcement resources.

Now our attention turns to the Senate and we need your help. Senators Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and David Vitter, R-La., are circulating a parallel letter to the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, and they are asking their colleagues to co-sign it by this Thursday. The funds requested in the letter are modest, but are critically needed to implement and enforce the Animal Welfare Act, the Horse Protection Act, the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, the federal animal fighting law, and programs to help prepare for the needs of animals in disasters and to address the shortage of veterinarians in rural and inner-city areas and USDA positions.

There are already 25 Senators who’ve agreed to lend their support. Please check this list, and if you see both your two Senators and your one Representative, thank each of them for stepping up. If either or both of your Senators aren’t on the list, please contact them today. You can find your federal legislators’ names and contact information here.

Please urge your two U.S. Senators to co-sign the Senate animal welfare funding group letter being circulated by Senators Boxer and Vitter, or make their own parallel individual requests, before the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee’s deadline of April 26th.

This is just the latest installment in a multiyear effort. The HSUS and HSLF have been steadily building the enforcement budgets for these laws, recognizing that laws on the books won’t do animals much good if they’re not enforced. Over the past fifteen years, for example, we’ve succeeded in boosting the annual funding for enforcement of the AWA by 188 percent (a cumulative total of more than $120 million  in new dollars to the program). Today, there are 127 AWA inspectors, compared to about 60 during the 1990s, to help ensure basic humane treatment at thousands of puppy mills, research laboratories, roadside zoos, circuses, and other facilities.

With your help, Congress can sustain these efforts to protect animals from cruelty and abuse. It’s an investment in the animals’ future—and our own.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Horsemeat Scandal Still Riding at a Gallop

The horsemeat scandal is still having a ripple effect across Europe, as officials announced this week that about 5 percent of beef products—everything from frozen lasagna to Swedish meatballs—tested positive for containing horse DNA. More than 7,000 tests were conducted throughout all 27 countries in the European Union, with the most equine content showing up in France and Greece, where about one in every eight beef products in those two countries was actually horse. In Britain, about 2 percent of all products tested positive for phenylbutazone, an equine painkiller banned from the human food chain.

HorseThe test results are shocking, but don’t even account for the dozens of other veterinary drugs commonly used to treat horses, and the lack of any tracking mechanisms when horses are scooped up from random sources and put into the horse slaughter pipeline. As Humane Society International European Union Director Joanna Swabe, Ph.D., noted:
Testing for just one of the many drugs banned for use in animals that enter the food chain falls short of a precautionary and thorough approach to addressing fraud and ensuring food safety standards are met. It isn’t just phenylbutazone (“bute”) in horsemeat that poses a potential risk to human health. The European Commission has failed to seek tests for a whole host of other banned veterinary drugs, which are commonly administered to horses, and is thereby failing the public by allowing meat from these animals to be sold in the European Union in contravention of its own food safety and consumer protection regulations.

It’s one more reason for the U.S. Congress to pass the Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act, S. 541 and H.R. 1094, introduced by Sens. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Reps. Pat Meehan, R-Pa., and Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill. About 20 percent of the horsemeat sold in Europe comes from North American horses, many of them used for competition and companionship and given veterinary medicines throughout their lives. And some would-be horse slaughter profiteers are actively trying to open plants here in the U.S., which would make it much more difficult to avoid the type of commingling and food fraud—with horsemeat being passed off as beef—that we saw in Europe.   

Yesterday, New Mexico Attorney General Gary King expressed his “grave concerns over the potential health risks associated with consumption of horse meat” processed at a proposed horse slaughtering plant in his state, noting that the experience in Europe shows there is no foolproof way to be certain that horsemeat will not enter the human food chain here in the U.S. We applaud the state and federal officials who are speaking out—recognizing that the predatory killer buyers who outbid families and rescue groups so they can scoop up healthy horses and sell their meat by the pound are not providing a “service” to horses, but are creating threats to our equine companions and to food safety here and abroad.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Protect Children from Being Exposed to Cruelty and Violence

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, and it’s appropriate that this week, a bipartisan group of U.S. Senators introduced legislation to help protect animals and children from dogfighting and cockfighting.

There are a lot of ways to hurt a child. But none may be more baffling than to expose a young child to the senseless cruelty of animal fighting and its associated crimes. 

AnimalfightingSadly, dogfighters and cockfighters often bring children to animal fights, introducing them to animal cruelty, violence, blood-letting, and other illegal activity. In 2010 and 2011, HSUS investigators infiltrated cockfights throughout Texas to document the extent of the problem. Children as young as 5 years old were regularly present at cockfighting derbies. In one case, an infant sat ringside at a cockfight in a rural county near San Antonio. 

A couple years ago in Ducktown, Tennessee, a major cockfighting pit was raided with numerous children present. A young girl, approximately 8 years old, had a front row seat by the main fighting pit.

Children, however, pay a high price for witnessing the cruelty of animal fighting first hand. Research shows that regularly being exposed to animal cruelty puts children at risk. When children become accustomed to the pain and suffering they witness, they can become desensitized and it can interfere with their emotional development.

Animal fighting is also closely associated with other crimes such as gang activity, drug dealing, illegal weapons possession, prostitution, and violence to humans. Exposing a child to these crimes endangers their safety and well-being.

This week, U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., Mark Kirk, R-Ill., Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and David Vitter, R-La., introduced S. 666, the Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act of 2013. It’s a companion bill to H.R. 366, introduced earlier in the year by U.S. Reps. Tom Marino, R-Pa., John Campbell, R-Calif., Jim McGovern, D-Mass., and Jim Moran, D-Va., which now has more than 130 cosponsors. Their legislation makes it a federal crime to knowingly attend an animal fight, as 49 states have already done, and also provides additional penalties for adults who knowingly bring a child to a cockfight or dogfight. This bipartisan, sensible legislation to protect animals and children deserves a vote and your federal lawmakers need to hear from you.

“As a former state and federal prosecutor, I’ve seen first-hand the criminal culture that surrounds animal fighting events and the damaging influence this environment has on our children,” said Rep. Marino, the House bill’s lead sponsor. The Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act would bring accountability to adults who callously subject children to this criminal culture. To protect both animals and children, and to commemorate National Child Abuse Prevention Month, please contact your members of Congress today and urge them to support H.R. 366 and S. 666.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

A Pit Bull Pox on Both Their Houses

If you think the phrase “epic fail” is reserved for pop culture, you’ve never visited the Maryland legislature. Yesterday, after a year of political debate, elected lawmakers squandered an opportunity to provide relief to thousands of Maryland families who may be forced to choose between their homes and their beloved dogs.

Almost exactly a year ago, the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled that pit bull dogs are “inherently dangerous,” and held dog owners—and anyone who controls the dog’s presence on their property—automatically liable for any damage caused by that dog. This unprecedented ruling has caused confusion and fear for dog owners, animal shelters, landlords, veterinary clinics and other small businesses. It ushered in legal chaos, as dogs that merely resembled pit bull types were swept up by canine profiling, and set the stage for expensive lawsuits about whether a dog is now or has ever been a pit bull.

Pit bullWe partnered with dozens of stakeholders ranging from landlords to animal shelters to formulate a pathway forward that was fair to dog owners and to victims of dog bites. Lawmakers were quick to take up this issue after the ruling came down last year, and a legislative task force considered solutions last summer. But as they delved into the details, it quickly became apparent that finding a solution that a majority of lawmakers could support wouldn’t be easy. Fortunately, lawmakers understood early in the process that singling out a particular type of dog is just bad policy—and breed-specific legislation doesn’t work. And they realized that sticking landlords and other third parties with this kind of liability is a recipe for disaster for dog owners who rent their homes all across the state, as it would incentivize property managers to adopt “no dog” policies and evict dog-owning tenants. What has been harder to nail down has been the standard of liability for dog owners whose dog injures someone.

As we have fought this battle alongside our coalition partners we entered into discussions about what happens when the human-animal bond is broken and someone is injured by man’s best friend. Who should be responsible for that, and how do we create standards that are fair to dog owners and provide meaningful remedies for people who are injured? We at HSLF know that those two goals are not mutually exclusive. Most dog owners welcome responsibility for their pets and take precautions necessary to prevent injuries. Everyone can agree we want safe communities, which are better for people and for animals.

Unfortunately, bridging the divide between positions taken by the Senate and the House of Delegates proved insurmountable, and last night the Maryland General Assembly adjourned for the year, leaving Maryland families and dogs without a remedy for at least another nine months. And this is failure on the part of leaders of both the House and Senate, who recognized the public outcry and expressed a will to work for a solution. Elected officials should be able to find ways to solve problems for citizens, and not get sidetracked by political yapping and finger pointing. 

We will continue to stand with advocates across the state and push for a solution to this stalemate and look forward to working with lawmakers over the summer and fall. We can do better than labeling “pit bulls” as “inherently dangerous”—better for dogs and better for our communities. And we hope you will join us. Visit humanesociety.org/protectmddogs for resources and information and follow our efforts on Facebook, at facebook.com/HSUSMaryland.

Monday, April 08, 2013

Ke$ha’s Year of the Animal

Members of Congress return today from a two-week recess, and they have a message waiting for them from global pop icon and dedicated animal advocate Ke$ha. The mega-star was in the nation’s capital recently, and she recorded a video calling on Congress to make animal protection a top priority. You can watch Ke$ha’s video here.

In 2013, lawmakers will consider a number of important animal protection issues, such as making it a crime to attend and bring children to dogfights and cockfights, phasing out the use of chimpanzees in invasive experiments, addressing the criminal abuse of Tennessee walking horses, and improving the treatment of egg-laying hens. Some bills have already been introduced this year—to crack down on animal fighting, puppy mills, and horse slaughter—and others are expected to be introduced soon.

Ke$ha
Ke$ha receives The HSUS's Wyler Award.
Tim Long/Long Photography

Just two weeks ago, Ke$ha received The HSUS’s Wyler Award in Beverly Hills for her work to raise awareness of animal protection concerns. As Humane Society International’s first Global Ambassador for animals, Ke$ha has spread the word about street dogs, the trophy hunting of endangered lions, shark-finning, Canada’s commercial seal slaughter, dogfighting and cruelty-free cosmetics, highlighting a different animal issue each month on her website and urging her massive fan base and social media following to take action for animals. Now she is urging Congress to enact strong policies against cruelty and abuse, as one more example of her raising her voice for animals.

You can join Ke$ha and help make 2013 the year of the animal. Take action and contact your members of Congress today.

 

Thursday, April 04, 2013

An Eye on 2014: Anti-Animal Politicians In the Mix

Some of the leading opponents of animal welfare in the U.S. House of Representatives may run for the U.S. Senate in 2014, where if elected they would ostensibly have more power to block common-sense animal protection policies. While Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa, has not yet made a final announcement about whether he will seek the open seat vacated by five-term Sen. Tom Harkin (a great friend to animal welfare), we do know that Rep. Paul Broun, R-Ga., was the first to throw his hat in the ring to succeed two-term Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga.

lion
The African lion Rep. Paul Broun, R-Ga., hunted and ate,
on display in his congressional office.
photo: Betsy Woodruff, National Review

Broun has one of the most extreme anti-animal voting records in the Congress; time and again he opposes the most modest efforts to prevent cruelty and abuse, and he goes out of his way to attack animal protection. Although he is a medical doctor, he voted twice, in 2008 and 2009, to allow the trade in monkeys, chimpanzees, and other primates as exotic pets, which can injure children and adults and spread deadly diseases such as tuberculosis and herpes-B virus. He voted to allow the commercial sale and slaughter of wild horses and burros. Shockingly, he was one of only three lawmakers to vote against legislation in 2010 to ban the trafficking in obscene animal “crush” videos, in which scantily clad women in high heels crush puppies, kittens, and other small animals to death for the sexual titillation of viewers.

Before coming to Congress, Broun was a volunteer lobbyist for Safari Club International, an extremist trophy hunting group that advocates for the killing of threatened and endangered species around the globe and at canned hunts here at home. The organization’s PAC has given more than $15,000 to Broun since 2007, and he has been their point man in the House. His congressional office has so many dead, stuffed animals on display—including an African lion, a bear, and a Dall sheep—that Roll Call described it as “something between a zoo and a pet cemetery.” Broun recently told National Review about his international hunting exploits, saying that he dined on African lion meat: “The lion wasn’t particularly tasty. It was kind of chewy, but I ate it too.”

So it was with enthusiasm that he voted to allow wealthy American trophy hunters to import the heads and hides of threatened polar bears killed for sport in the Arctic, and he voted to allow the carrying of loaded firearms in national parks and open more national park units to sport hunting. Although he claims to be a conservationist, he voted against programs to support the conservation of marine turtles, Southern sea otters, imperiled crane populations, and rare dog and cat species such as wolves, leopards, and jaguars around the world. And he voted to weaken the Endangered Species Act and prevent the listing of imperiled species and designation of critical habitat. With this voting record, he doesn’t bear even a passing resemblance to a conservationist.

Although he claims to be a fiscal conservative, Broun votes to spend our tax dollars when they serve his own interests. He supported a $12 million package that would overturn key protections for threatened polar bears, expand sport hunting on federal lands, and prevent restrictions on toxic lead ammunition that poisons wildlife and the environment. And he voted to spend millions of tax dollars to kill predators with steel-jawed leghold traps, toxic poisons, and other inhumane methods, as a subsidy for private livestock ranchers.

Broun is certain to face a competitive Republican primary, and given his extremist views, he won’t get a pass in the general election from Democrats. HSLF will be exposing his record every step of the way, and we’ll keep you updated as the 2014 races begin to take shape, and as we take stock of what’s at stake for animal welfare.

Monday, April 01, 2013

Slaughtering Horses for Profit, Not Welfare

Ignoring the global horse meat scandal that’s thrown the industry into further disrepute, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin signed legislation Friday lifting the state’s ban on processing and selling horsemeat, potentially setting the stage for Oklahoma becoming the first state in six years to open an equine abattoir. In signing the bill, which was opposed by horse advocates and rescue groups, Fallin wrongly compared horse slaughter to humane euthanasia, saying, “abuse is tragically common among horses that are reaching the end of their natural lives.”

It’s a false framing of the issue, because the horse slaughter industry is a predatory, inhumane enterprise. They don’t “euthanize” old horses—but precisely the opposite: they buy up young and healthy horses, often by misrepresenting their intentions, and inhumanely kill them to sell the meat to Europe and Japan. 

Horse meat scandalWhen horse slaughter plants previously operated in the U.S., according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 92.3 percent of the horses arrived healthy and in good condition. These are not the sick and lame and unwanted—they are horses that could have been rehomed and lived out a productive life. That is, if the “killer buyers” who gather horses from random sources and act as bunchers for the slaughter plants stop outbidding loving families and horse rescue groups at auctions, driving up the prices of healthy horses because they have the most meat and the most profit on their bones.

It’s a shame that Oklahoma politicians would want their state to line up in the race to be the first to kill Trigger and Mr. Ed, especially since two-thirds of Oklahoma voters oppose horse slaughter. But there is a long way to go before that happens, as USDA would have to approve a process for providing inspections at horse slaughter plants, creating an additional federal regulatory burden at a time of fiscal austerity. It may be a risky investment for any business that wants to slaughter horses, as there is increased scrutiny of the drugs and medications given to horses throughout their lifetimes, with no tracking of the substances since the animals are not intended for human consumption, and foreign markets such as Europe becoming more skeptical of doped-up horsemeat.

USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack recently called for “a third way” to deal with unwanted horses besides killing them and exporting their meat for human consumption. As noted in The Hagstrom Report, the Secretary “called on Congress to come up with other ways to handle aging horses than to slaughter for meat for human consumption…Vilsack said that horses might be used to help veterans who have returned from war, and noted that when he was governor of Iowa horses were used to work with inmates in prisons and that their use gave prisoners job skills when they got out.”

This is the kind of problem solving we need from our political leaders, and we should reject the same old tired thinking from those who trot out the Orwellian lines about killing horses to save them. We should reject the horse slaughter industry, just as we would reject a slaughter industry for dogs or cats gathered up under false pretenses and killed for export.

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