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Thursday, May 23, 2019

Agriculture spending bill directs USDA to resume posting inspection reports; prevents horse slaughter; funds domestic violence/pet shelter program

The House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee has just voted to approve its Fiscal Year 2020 bill, and there’s great news for animals, including wildlife, companion animals, and horses.

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Photo by Meredith Lee/The HSUS

The bill directs the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in no uncertain terms, to resume online posting of all inspection reports and enforcement records under the Animal Welfare Act and Horse Protection Act, without redactions that obscure the identities of puppy mills, roadside zoos, and other businesses cited for abusing animals in their care. It requires the agency to restore these records on its website, in a searchable format and in their entirety, within 60 days of the bill’s enactment.

We have been fighting for this outcome since the agency abruptly purged this information from its website in February 2017, leaving Americans in the dark. Renewed access to these taxpayer-financed records is crucial for deterring violations, guiding consumer decision-making, and holding the USDA accountable for its enforcement efforts.

Among other key provisions, the bill would:

  • Prohibit government spending on horse slaughter inspections, effectively preventing horse slaughter in the United States for human consumption. This “defund” language has been enacted nearly every year since 2005, but it wasn’t included in last year’s House bill (the Senate had to insist on its inclusion in the final package). This is the first time it’s been part of the House chairman’s base bill. Reps. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., and Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., led a letter signed by 111 Representatives seeking this provision.
  • Provide shelter options for people with pets who are fleeing domestic violence: The bill includes $2 million to fund a new grant program authorized by the 2018 Farm Bill, based on the Pet and Women Safety (PAWS) Act, which will provide emergency and transitional shelter options for domestic violence survivors with companion animals. Abusers often threaten or inflict harm on pets to exert control over their partners and prevent them from leaving. Only 3% of domestic violence shelters currently allow pets, so these funds will help ensure that more facilities are able to accommodate them or arrange for pet shelter. Rep. Katherine Clark, D-Mass., introduced the PAWS Act and led efforts to secure this funding.
  • Crack down on horse soring: The bill provides a $294,000 increase (raising the program’s funding to $1 million) for stronger USDA enforcement of the Horse Protection Act. Weak oversight of this law has allowed the cruel practice of “soring” to persist—with unscrupulous trainers continuing to deliberately inflict pain on the hooves and legs of Tennessee Walking Horses and related breeds using caustic chemicals, chains, weighted shoes, hard objects, cutting, and other gruesome techniques to force them to perform an artificially high-stepping gait known as the "Big Lick" and gain unfair competitive advantage at horse shows. 
  • Enforce humane slaughter requirements: The bill maintains staffing for inspections and enforcement related to the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act. Oversight of humane handling rules at slaughter facilities is vital not only to protect animals from abuses like those documented in HSUS undercover investigations, but also to reduce the chance of associated food safety risks and costly product recalls.
  • Renew the prohibition on licensing Class B dealers: The bill prevents USDA from using funds to license “Class B random source” dealers, who are notorious for obtaining cats and dogs through fraudulent means, including pet theft, holding them in awful conditions and then selling them into research. Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Calif., championed this language.

Our biggest thanks go to subcommittee Chairman Sanford Bishop, D-Ga., for his extraordinary leadership in including these items in the chairman’s bill that he put forward. Thanks also to subcommittee Ranking Member Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., for his support of the bill, to all the legislators who championed these pro-animal measures, and Reps. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., and Christopher Smith, R-N.J., for their outstanding bipartisan mobilization of 188 Representatives who requested many of these provisions.

This bill demonstrates, once again, that legislators across the political spectrum agree on the need for stronger animal protections. We are still a long way from final enactment of this legislation, but it’s off to a very strong start and we are determined to see these important provisions over the finish line.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Spending bills move up in Congress, with progress for wild horses and burros, wolves and other wildlife

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

As the U.S. Congress takes up the business of funding federal programs, some good news for animals has emerged. Today, the House Appropriations Committee approved two Fiscal Year 2020 bills that cover funding for the Department of the Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Department of Commerce—all federal agencies whose activities and programs have enormous consequences for animals. The proposed measures include groundbreaking new protections for wild horses and burros, support for gray wolves, and increased funding to implement the Endangered Species Act.

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Photo courtesy iStock.com

The 2020 bills also repudiate years of cuts to the budgets of key agency programs responsible for implementing these and other animal protection commitments.

Among the highlights of the bills that passed the committee today:

New milestones for wild horses and burros: The bill that covers the Interior Department provides $6 million for a pilot project to move the Bureau of Land Management’s Wild Horse and Burro Program away from calls to use lethal management methods like slaughter. The language for increased funding for a non-lethal pilot program included in the FY20 report is for scientifically based fertility control tools, which do not include sterilization. Consistent with a strategy proposed by the Humane Society Legislative Fund, the Humane Society of the United States and several other organizations, this initiative directs the BLM to work with key stakeholders to implement a non-lethal, science-based approach to wild horse and burro management on two to three herd management areas. This will involve vigorous application of fertility control alongside strategic removals, the relocation of removed horses and burros to pasture facilities, and increased focus on adoptions. This is the first time that lawmakers have championed such a multifaceted, non-lethal wild horse and burro management concept, an historic achievement. We will continue to work with appropriators to ensure that scientifically-proven, safe and humane reversible fertility control tools, which do not include surgical sterilization, become the heart of the BLM’s wild horse and burro management. Notably, this legislation includes first-time language to close a loophole that could have allowed the U.S. Forest Service to kill healthy wild horses and burros and/or to send them to slaughter; the bill also reinstates a similar prohibition with respect to the BLM.

Maintaining ESA protections for gray wolves: Time and time again, when federal protections are removed for wolves, states allow their resident wolves to be trophy hunted and trapped, causing their populations to plummet. This is one of the main concerns with a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) proposed rule to remove ESA protections for gray wolves. The bill that covers the Interior Department directs the agency to carefully analyze state management plans to ensure adequate protections will be in place before it removes a species from the ESA list, and then establish a stringent monitoring system with rigorous enforcement provisions. The bill also rejects cuts in the administration’s proposed FY 2020 budget to the Wolf Livestock Demonstration Program, which provides grants for livestock producers willing to undertake non-lethal activities to reduce the miniscule risk of livestock losses from wolves.

Conservation of marine mammals: The bill covering the Commerce Department funds vital research and monitoring for the endangered North Atlantic right whale and southern resident killer whale. It proposes at least $4 million for the John H. Prescott Marine Mammal Rescue Assistance grant program, which funds the country’s marine mammal stranding response network. The legislation maintains funding of the Marine Mammal Commission, rejecting the administration’s bid to close this key independent federal agency tasked with addressing human impacts on marine mammals and their ecosystems. 

Funding for wildlife protection programs: For years, Congress has cut funding for programs vital to wildlife protection, to the point where there is insufficient capital to ensure their effective functioning. The bill covering the Interior Department increases monies for the FWS’s Ecological Services program, which is central to on-the-ground activities to protect and recover ESA-listed species. The bill proposes $37 million more than Ecological Services received for FY 2019, and $49 million above the administration’s FY 2020 budget request. It also boosts funding for the Multinational Species Conservation Fund, designed to protect iconic global species such as elephants and great apes, by almost $4 million from its FY 2019 level and by $9 million from the administration’s FY 2020 proposal.

Animal testing alternatives: The bill covering the Interior Department proposes $40 million more in funding above the president’s request for the EPA’s Computational Toxicology Program and Endocrine Disruptor Program, which develop replacements for traditional animal tests, as required in the 2016 reauthorization of the Toxic Substances Control Act.

We are excited about shepherding these proposals forward in Congress, and we look forward to your continued support for these and other animal protection measures in weeks to come.

Kitty Block is President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States and President of Humane Society International, the international affiliate of the HSUS.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

An American trophy hunter wants to bring home an endangered cheetah he killed in Namibia

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

The cheetah, an animal capable of top speeds of 75 miles per hour, is racing toward extinction, with just 7,100 animals left in the wild. Recently, in another expression of the callous disregard trophy hunters show for the world’s most endangered and at-risk animals, an American who killed a cheetah in Namibia, has applied to import trophy parts from his kill into the United States.

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Photo by Magda Ehlers from Pexels

If approved, it would be the first time on record that the U.S. government would have authorized the import of a cheetah trophy under the ESA. This could set a terrible precedent and very possibly encourage more trophy hunters to go after cheetahs, exacerbating their tragic fate.

We recently learned that another American has also applied to import the trophy of a black rhino, also killed in Namibia. There are now just 5,500 black rhinos remaining in the wild.

It defies understanding that our government would even allow trophy hunters to apply for permits to import animals fast disappearing from earth and protected under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. Both black rhinos and cheetahs are listed as endangered under ESA and can only be imported if the FWS finds that hunting the animal would enhance the survival of the species. A trophy hunter killing an animal for thrills and bragging rights clearly does not meet that standard.

Sadly, in recent years, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, instead of doing its job of protecting animals listed under the ESA, has enabled an escalation of attacks against them. Beginning in 2017, the FWS reversed more enlightened policies, making it easier for American trophy hunters to import trophies of endangered and threatened animals. The agency also established the International Wildlife Conservation Council, a body stocked with trophy hunters and firearms dealers, tasked to advise on federal wildlife policy decisions—a decision we’ve challenged in court. And last year, the FWS proposed changes to weaken the ESA, which is the bedrock law that protects endangered and threatened animal species and their habitats. Those harmful changes could be finalized any day now.

Late last year, despite our objections, the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service granted an import permit to an American hunter who paid $400,000 to kill a 35-year-old male black rhino in Namibia in 2017.

Scientists warn that at the rate black rhinos and cheetahs are disappearing, they could be lost forever. Like rhinos, cheetahs face a number of threats, including massive habitat loss and degradation. These distinctive, spotted animals, known as the fastest land mammals, have already lost 91% of their historic range and 77% of their remaining habitat is not in protected areas, leaving them open to attack. Cheetahs also become victims of retaliation killings by humans due to conflict with livestock and game farmers, and trafficking of live cheetahs for the illegal pet trade. The last thing they need is to be shot for fun by a trophy hunter.

For trophy hunters, the rarer the animal, the more valuable the trophy is, and the greater the prestige and thrill of killing it. But most Americans know better and oppose trophy hunting, as we've seen from the backlash against trophy hunters that usually follows when they post their conquests on social media. With so few cheetahs and black rhinos left in the world, every animal counts. Please join us and urge the FWS to do the right thing by rejecting these two applications.

Kitty Block is President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States and President of Humane Society International, the international affiliate of the HSUS.

Wednesday, May 08, 2019

Urgent alert! Act now to prevent trophy hunting of gray wolves

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

Time is running out for America’s gray wolves. The opportunity to weigh in on a proposed federal rule that would prematurely strip Endangered Species Act protections for the wolves in the lower 48 states ends soon, and it is important that you comment by tomorrow. These animals are still in a fragile state of recovery after years of persecution, and delisting them could have disastrous consequences for their future and for the well-being of the ecosystems in which they live.

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Photo courtesy of hkuchera/iStock.com

The rule has no basis in science, as 100 scientists and scholars attested yesterday in a letter to Interior Secretary David Bernhardt. In strong opposition to the rule, the scientists pointed out that the Endangered Species Act requires that a species be recovered throughout a larger portion of its historic range before it is delisted—a goal that has not been achieved yet for wolves.

In reality, this rule is simply a handout from the Department of the Interior to trophy hunters, trappers and the agribusiness lobby—the latest in more than 100 attacks on wolves and the ESA that we have seen in recent years. Congress and state and federal wildlife management agencies, under pressure from trophy hunting interests, have been pursuing this wolf-delisting agenda for decades, and have been spreading irrational fears and myths about wolves that have no basis in reality.

In a recent report, HSUS researchers debunked U.S. Department of Agriculture data on livestock killed by wolves that state and federal lawmakers have advanced to justify opening up a season on wolves. When our researchers compared livestock losses data released by state agencies and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, they found that the USDA data was highly exaggerated and that wolves accounted for less than 1% of cattle and sheep losses in the states where they live.

We can say for certain that if wolves lose their federal protections, these highly sentient, family-oriented animals will face an onslaught of cruelty, including death by trapping, poisoning, baiting, and hounding. Consider their plight in Wyoming and Idaho, where they are already hunted. Wyoming considers 83% of the state a “predator zone” where trophy hunters and trappers can employ the most unspeakably cruel methods to kill or capture wolves with zero restraint. In Idaho, wildlife officials permitted trophy hunters, trappers, and predator control agents to eradicate its population from nearly 1,000 wolves to 150. Idaho even allows hunters to kill multiple wolves, including at the den in springtime when whole families are vulnerable.

In the Great Lakes region, wolves will face all of those perils and more, because Wisconsin will resume a drastic and unscientific wolf population reduction program and Michigan will open a hunting and trapping season that was soundly rejected by the state’s own voters in the 2014 general election.

Most Americans do not support trophy hunting wolves, and some states have also taken a stand against delisting. Minnesota’s Gov. Tim Walz came out with a strong statement that he supports legislation banning the hunting of wolves and the California Fish and Game Commission recently voted to oppose it. We’ve seen an outpouring of opposition to the proposed rule in recent public hearings in Colorado, California and Oregon.

The wolves need your support too, and they need you to act fast. Please comment at the link below before close of business tomorrow, May 9, and let the Department of the Interior know you oppose this cruel delisting.

Protect gray wolves now!

Kitty Block is President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States and President of Humane Society International, the international affiliate of the HSUS.

Wednesday, May 01, 2019

Bill in Congress would require better veterinary care, other reforms for dogs in puppy mills

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

A quartet of bipartisan U.S. Representatives today introduced a bill that would strengthen baseline standards for commercial dog dealers regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture under the Animal Welfare Act.

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Photo by Meredith Lee/The HSUS

The Puppy Protection Act was introduced by Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., Charlie Crist, D-Fla., Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., and Guy Reschenthaler, R-Pa., and it builds on previous efforts by these lawmakers to crack down on puppy mills, like the WOOF Act introduced in February that would make it harder for USDA-licensed breeders and exhibitors with severe and multiple Animal Welfare Act (AWA) violations to get new licenses.

The Puppy Protection Act is necessary because current AWA regulations are vague and inadequate when it comes to the animals’ veterinary care and even their most basic needs, like food, water and socialization. Under current regulations, federally licensed breeders can be compliant with the AWA even while keeping dogs in small, cramped wire cages without sufficient preventive care, exercise or socialization. This often leads to sick, behaviorally-challenged puppies and heartbreak for the families who bring them home and love them.

Among other improvements, the Puppy Protection Act would:

  • Require annual hands-on veterinary examinations, core vaccinations, prompt treatment of illness or injury and preventive medications. Such protections now tend to be especially inadequate for mother and father dogs and their offspring at large-scale breeding operations. Current standards simply call for breeders to employ an attending veterinarian and maintain vaguely defined “adequate veterinary care.”
  • Set specific limits on breeding age and frequency, requiring breeders to screen for inheritable diseases, and prohibiting a dog from being bred unless they are free from such conditions. There are no rules on breeding practices now, so breeders can breed dogs relentlessly starting at a young age, including dogs with crippling congenital conditions that can be passed on to the puppies, like degenerative myelopathy, a disease of the spinal cord. And when a mother dog is too old to breed, the bill would compel the breeder to seek humane placement, rather than selling or destroying her.
  • Improve housing conditions for the dogs, which can be miserable and overcrowded and can cause sanitation problems, stress and disease in the animals. Many puppy mills stack dogs in tiny cages on top of one another, with wire flooring underfoot. Dogs’ and puppies’ legs or feet can become trapped in the wires, causing injury or keeping the animals from being able to reach food and water. The bill seeks to expand cage and exercise spaces and would require at least 30 minutes of socialization for the dogs each day, which would improve the animals’ health and behavioral development.
  • Require food be provided at least twice per day and access to water be provided continuously. The bill would prevent breeders from housing dogs without protections in freezing or sweltering temperatures.

Our staff witnesses the horrors that puppy mills wreak on innocent animals every day, through the hands-on rescue work we do and through the work of our Puppy Mills Campaign, including our research for the annualHorrible Hundred report, which identifies problem puppy mills in the United States. We come across many shocking examples of how current federal standards are failing to protect the animals adequately. For instance, during a June 2018 inspection of an Indiana breeder, a USDA inspector, after coming upon an extremely thin female breeding dog, simply allowed the licensee to obtain veterinary guidance over the phone, which is allowed under current regulations, instead of requiring a hands-on examination. Not only did this place the mother dog and her puppies at risk of an inaccurate diagnosis, but the issue wasn’t cited in a manner to prompt a follow-up inspection. In the end, the welfare of the dog and her puppies was left entirely to the discretion of the breeder who had failed to take adequate care of them in the first place.

This simply cannot go on. We applaud Reps. Fitzpatrick, Crist, McGovern and Reschenthaler for introducing the Puppy Protection Act, and we need your help to ensure it passes into law. Please contact your U.S. Representative today and ask them to cosponsor this important bill. This is commonsense legislation, and it is not too much to ask that dogs should never have to endure the bleak horror of spending their entire lives inside stacked wire cages with no companionship, no protection from harsh weather, and without adequate food and water.

Kitty Block is President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States and President of Humane Society International, the international affiliate of the HSUS.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Preventing the lethal control and slaughter of America’s wild horses and burros

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

In recent years, understanding our firm and absolute opposition to horse slaughter in the United States and to the cruelty and inefficiency of the Bureau of Land Management’s wild horse and burro work, frustrated members of Congress have been pressing the Humane Society of the United States and the Humane Society Legislative Fund to advance a solution-focused proposal. And now, with the ASPCA, Return to Freedom and other groups, we’ve done so.

B7AXXG_1__434999The facts are simple enough. The proposal we’ve put forth provides more humane approaches. Lethal control of horses and burros, whether by slaughter or mass killing, is not up for discussion -- instead, it’s expressly prohibited. The proposal also commits the government to advance fertility control initiatives, fund adoption efforts, and provide larger, more humane pasture facilities for horses and burros currently in holding facilities and taken off the range. As a result of the changes this proposal recommends, there will be no perpetual warehousing of horses and burros, no slaughter, and no more stalemate on the path towards long-term humane resolution of their plight.

Together, our two organizations were among the primary architects of the Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act, to ban horse slaughter in the United States and halt the export of American horses for slaughter abroad, and we are among its strongest current backers. We’ve drawn a hard line in fighting to include language in federal spending bills that defunds horse slaughter for human consumption in the United States, by denying funds for USDA inspection of horse slaughterhouses. We will continue to push for passage of the SAFE Act, and fight for language to defund horse slaughter for human consumption whenever and wherever necessary.

Over the past decade, we have filed and won multiple lawsuits to block horse slaughter, and to hold BLM accountable for its duties to wild horses under federal law. Along with other horse advocates, we are currently suing to block the federal government from selling wild horses directly to killer buyers who want to ship American horses out of the country for human consumption.

The issue of horse slaughter is not limited to the United States, and we are engaged at the international level as well. Following the 2013 horsemeat scandal in the European Union, staff from the HSUS and our affiliate, Humane Society International, mounted a campaign to educate consumers and EU government officials about the dangers of consuming horsemeat (intentionally, or not) derived from American horses, who are routinely treated with a vast array of medications, the use of which is prohibited in food-producing animals in the EU. In December 2014, the EU suspended imports of horsemeat from Mexico after a series of official European Commission audits consistently identified serious problems with the lack of adequate veterinary records and traceability of horses slaughtered for EU export -- the majority of which originated in the United States. And we’re still pressing for a moratorium covering Canada, Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay where similar traceability problems with horsemeat exports persist.

Finally, we’ve long led the campaign to expand and normalize the use of immunocontraception, and championed research, validation and implementation of the contraceptive product Zonastat-H (PZP). In pursuit of a successful immunocontraception strategy, we’ve worked with the Dietrich W. Botstiber Foundation to launch the Botstiber Institute for Wildlife Fertility Control, and forged a partnership with Purdue University to create a single shot, three- to four-year immunocontraception vaccine for wild horses and burros. Over the years we have learned more about the best way to ensure the effectiveness of PZP, and we are confident that, combined with the other aspects of the proposal, this critical component will help ensure a more humane future for our nation’s wild horses and burros.

But every now and again, a position we’ve taken puts us in some degree of tension with other organizations. That’s not unusual in any movement, and it is our hope and sincere expectation that, in time, any humane advocates doubtful about the wisdom and value of the plan we’ve forged will come to appreciate its soundness.

Everyone with experience in politics understands the need for realism in the face of a difficult challenge whose solutions have proven elusive. And you’d be hard-pressed to find a more contentious question in the realm of animal protection than the fate of these majestic residents of America’s western rangelands. That’s one of the reasons why the current proposal is so striking. This time, horse advocates, ranching interests and other stakeholders have set aside their differences in the interests of an approach intended to secure the long-term future of wild horses and burros without using lethal methods such as mass killing and slaughter. It was not easy, and took several years as these stakeholders did not all start in the same place. Eventually, however, they did find a common set of goals -- an outcome that promises to break the current deadlock over these iconic animals’ long-term fate. The alternative, as we heard from members of Congress on both sides of the aisle, was moving toward slaughter or mass killing, and we’ve seen moves to make that a reality, such as the president requesting the authority to use “all tools,” including lethal ones, and the National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board voting to support a plan to reach its population target for wild horses and burros within eight years by killing healthy animals and via unlimited sales. That is unacceptable, and that’s why this proposal merits the consideration and support of the U.S. Congress as well as the general public. It deserves to be funded and implemented as soon as practicable, and if approved, we will push for its annual renewal.

Our nation has an obligation to wild horses and burros, one codified in the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971. And now, we have a genuine chance to make good on the promise of that legislation, to provide these extraordinary wild denizens of the American West a chance to survive and thrive.

Kitty Block is President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States and President of Humane Society International, the international affiliate of the HSUS.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Proposal offers brighter future for wild horses and burros

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

The Bureau of Land Management’s Wild Horse and Burro Program is broken. Since inception of the program, the BLM has removed approximately 270,000 wild horses and burros from our public lands, without any significant use of fertility control tools, and without a plan to ensure the long-term viability and humane treatment of wild horses and burros.

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iStock Photo

For many years, BLM and equine advocates have been locked in a continuing cycle of ever-increasing removals, more and more horses warehoused in holding facilities (and the associated rising costs), and a political and policy stalemate between stakeholders—with no solutions in sight. Meanwhile wild horse and burro populations have grown—as have political tensions surrounding the program —and to date because no viable solutions have been presented to Congress, we are looking at a future in which the BLM will likely be directed by Congress to sell wild horse and burros without limitation, or destroy “excess” wild horses and burros.

Three years ago the HSUS, HSLF and its allies decided enough was enough, and started to work cooperatively with other stakeholders on a simple goal—find a responsible way forward. Today, we are announcing our support for a landmark proposal for the care of America’s wild horses and burros.

Working in concert with other animal welfare, wild horse advocacy, conservation and rangeland management stakeholders, we have developed a proposal for the non-lethal and humane care of wild horses and burros, with four key elements:

  1. Comprehensive large-scale application of proven, safe and humane fertility control strategies to help stabilize wild horse and burro populations on the range and to slow population growth.
  2. Targeted gathers of horses and burros in densely populated areas that cannot sustain large numbers of animals, to protect horses and burros from forage and water shortages, lower populations, and facilitate non-lethal fertility control and population control efforts.
  3. Relocate horses and burros in short-term holding facilities, and those taken off the range, to large cost-effective, humane pasture facilities that provide a free-roaming environment for wild horses and burros.
  4. Promoting the adoption of wild horses and burros into good homes to improve the lives of currently warehoused horses and burros, reduce the total cost of the program, and redirect funds to long-term strategies for the care and sustainability of horse and burro populations.

This proposal represents an entirely new, humane and comprehensive approach to wild horse and burro management—combining a number of techniques currently in use with new and innovative approaches into a larger framework for humane long-term care and rehoming of horses and burros.

One thing the proposal doesn’t include? The destruction or unlimited sale of healthy wild horses and burros. Although this proposal requires some interventions for horses that the humane community has fought in the past, the comprehensive plan, as a whole, is the best path forward to protect America’s horses from an ineffective status quo.

Fighting the big fights to protect all animals requires more than just objecting and opposing inhumane treatment of animals. It requires creative action to change the status quo. And this includes working with people from many different backgrounds and interests to find real-world solutions for animals. We’ve taken that approach here, as we have done in the past for many other animals on different occasions.

It wasn’t easy to get here, but it is the very best pathway forward. We all want to see healthy herds of wild horses and burros on the range in perpetuity, and we firmly believe something must be done now to prevent the suffering of horses and burros in the future. Working together we have broken the stalemate and presented to Congress a cooperative solution that focuses on the non-lethal and humane care of wild horses and burros, and also ensures the long-term protection of wild horses and burros on our western rangelands. Now we must call on Congress to fund this pathway forward to sustain these American icons for decades to come.

Read our FAQ about this proposal here.

Kitty Block is President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States and President of Humane Society International, the international affiliate of the HSUS.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Recognizing Humane Legislators on Capitol Hill

Last night, the Humane Society Legislative Fund and The Humane Society of the United States co-hosted the annual Congressional Humane Awards to honor a bipartisan group of lawmakers who led the way for animals during the last year. Dozens of Senators and Representatives plus staff members from additional offices attended the event in the U.S. Capitol to celebrate the federal lawmakers who are working to make the world a better place for animals.

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Photo courtesy of Sen. Stabenow's office
2018 Legislator of the Year Sen. Stabenow, center,
pictured with HSLF President Sara Amundson,
to the left,and HSUS President and CEO Kitty Block,
to the right.

The top awards this year went to Senators Pat Roberts, R-Kan., Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., Mike Conaway, R-Texas, and Collin Peterson, D-Minn., who were honored as the 2018 Humane Legislators of the Year for their work on key animal protection measures in the Farm Bill. The Humane Legislator of the Year award recognizes federal lawmakers who have achieved path-breaking reforms for animals through federal legislation.

In 2018, Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Roberts and Ranking Member Stabenow and House Agriculture Committee Chairman Conaway and Ranking Member Peterson played pivotal roles on four key victories in the multi-year Farm Bill signed into law in December (P.L. 115-334):

  • King Amendment – Most importantly, the final package excluded the disastrous amendment tacked onto the House Farm Bill in committee by Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa). This amendment threatened countless state and local laws, including laws addressing horse and dog meat, extreme confinement of farm animals, puppy mills, and the sale of shark fins, as well as a range of other concerns such as food safety, child labor, opioids, pesticide exposure, fire-safe cigarettes, manure management, and handling of diseased livestock. The King amendment generated overwhelming opposition by a diverse coalition of more than 220 groups and 600 individual government officials, veterinary professionals, farmers, legal experts, faith leaders, and citizens across the political spectrum who took a public stance against this measure.

  • Pets and Domestic Violence – Senators Roberts and Stabenow included in their initial Senate Farm Bill a provision mirroring the Pet and Women Safety (PAWS) Act (S. 322/H.R. 909 in the 115th Congress), which was sustained in the final package. This extends federal domestic violence protections to include pets and authorizes grant money to help domestic violence shelters and other entities accommodate pets or arrange for pet shelter. Currently, only 3 percent of these shelters allow pets. Research shows that abusers often threaten or inflict violence on pets as a way to intimidate or control their partners and prevent them from leaving. The measure enjoyed the support of a broad network of domestic violence, law enforcement, veterinary, and animal welfare organizations.

  • Animal Fighting – The final package included an amendment passed on the House floor by a 359-51 vote to clarify that federal prohibitions against dogfighting and cockfighting activity apply to all U.S. jurisdictions, including U.S. territories. This amendment mirrored the Parity in Animal Cruelty Enforcement (PACE) Act (H.R. 4202/S. 2971). It will help protect animals from vicious cruelty, protect communities from criminal activity often linked to animal fighting such as drug trafficking and gang violence, reduce threats to public health and the food supply from transmission of bird flu and other illnesses such as the current outbreak of virulent Newcastle disease, and enhance enforcement of the federal animal fighting law across the U.S.

  • Dog and Cat Meat – The House Committee and the Senate approved amendments based on the Dog and Cat Meat Trade Prohibition Act (H.R. 1406). The final Farm Bill prohibits the domestic slaughter, trade, and import/export of dogs and cats for human consumption, preventing an appalling trade from taking hold in the U.S. and strengthening our standing to end it worldwide. Around 30 million dogs and untold numbers of cats are the victims of this brutal industry globally every year, with animals often snatched off the street or stolen from loving families, still wearing collars, and subjected to unspeakable abuse only to end up on someone’s dinner plate.

Toomey
Photo courtesy of Bill Petros
Sen. Toomey, pictured center with
HSUS President and CEO Kitty Block, to the left,
and HSLF President Sara Amundson, to the right,
was named a Legislative Leader.

Senator Stabenow received the 2014 Legislator of the Year Award, too, for her leadership on that year’s Farm Bill—keeping the King amendment out and strengthening federal animal fighting law by prohibiting knowing attendance at an organized animal fight or bringing a child to such an event—as well as her work to end intensive confinement of laying hens in battery cages. In 2018, she also sent a letter to the Secretary of Agriculture voicing concern about USDA’s website purge of inspection reports and other enforcement records under the Animal Welfare Act and the Horse Protection Act.

Representative Peterson was the lead sponsor of legislation in the 107th Congress that he got enacted as part of the 2002 Farm Bill to crack down on animal fighting. Those provisions closed loopholes that allowed the interstate shipment of fighting birds and export of fighting birds and dogs and strengthened penalties for animal fighting violations.

In addition to honoring Senators Roberts and Stabenow and Representatives Conaway and Peterson, HSLF and the HSUS recognized a broader, bipartisan group of outstanding lawmakers based on their leadership on animal protection issues and their ratings on the 2018 Humane Scorecard. In total, 173 legislators—45 Senators and 128 Representatives and Delegates (representing 40 states, the District of Columbia, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands and Virgin Islands)—were honored for their work in 2018. The animal protection community is grateful to all of these Members of Congress who are helping to forge a path to a more humane future through their demonstrated leadership. Congratulations to the recipients of the 2018 Humane Awards.

Thursday, April 04, 2019

Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act moves up in Congress; New film exposes cruelty and corruption in global trade

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

The Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act passed the Senate Commerce Committee with a near-unanimous voice vote this week, with American lawmakers leaving no doubt of how they view the nefarious global trade in which fishermen cut the fins off sharks and dump them back in the waters to drown, be eaten alive by other fish, or bleed to death.

Hslf-shark-inset-175x225
Photo by Vanessa Mignon

While our federal law bans shark finning in American waters, the United States is an end market as well as a transit point for shark fins obtained in other countries where finning is unregulated or where finning laws are not sufficiently enforced. The bill, introduced by Sens. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., would decisively put an end to such U.S. participation, while reinforcing our country's leadership in ending the global trade in shark fins.

A companion bill in the House is also moving ahead. Sponsored by Reps. Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan, D-Northern Mariana Islands, and Michael McCaul, R-Texas, it was heard in the House Water, Oceans and Wildlife subcommittee last week.

To meet a demand for shark fin soup, fins from as many as 73 million sharks are traded throughout the world every year. This commerce is unsustainable—some shark populations worldwide have declined by as much as 90 percent in recent decades, and the International Union for Conservation of Nature estimates that up to one-quarter of shark and ray species are at risk of extinction.

So far, 13 U.S. states, including Hawaii and Texas, have passed laws banning the trade, and more states are considering bans this year. Humane Society International is working to end shark finning globally, through education and legislation in Europe, Latin America, and Asia. HSI/Canada is working to advance a federal bill that prohibits the sale of shark fins within Canadian borders. The bill already passed the Canadian Senate with strong support and awaits a House of Commons vote.

Canada is the largest importer of shark fins outside Asia, and Canadian conservationist, photographer, author, and filmmaker Rob Stewart has worked to bring attention to this cruel practice through his films and advocacy. Tragically, Rob passed away two years ago in a diving accident, but his parents, Brian and Sandy Stewart (with the rest of the Sharkwater team) recently released a powerful film, Sharkwater Extinction, documenting Rob’s efforts to expose the illicit shark fin industry. The film follows him to various countries as he uncovers the corruption intertwined with shark finning.

Through striking cinematography and gripping scenes, Sharkwater Extinction aptly captures the plight of sharks and drives home why we need to end this cruel trade. The film is being released on Amazon on Earth Day, April 22, and as our efforts to pass the ban on the shark fin trade continue on the Hill and in statehouses across the country, we will bring it to lawmakers’ attention.

We hope you will watch it too, and call your Members of Congress to ask them to cosponsor the Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act. Sharks need our help now, more than ever. This keystone animal plays a vital role in protecting marine ecosystems and conserving wildlife and habitat in the oceans. We need sharks swimming free in the wild, not in a bowl of soup.

Kitty Block is President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States and President of Humane Society International, the international affiliate of the HSUS.

Wednesday, April 03, 2019

PAST Act introduced in Senate as more evidence for ending walking horse abuse surfaces

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

Recent developments in a case involving a Tennessee walking horse named Honors, who was crowned champion despite clear evidence that he was a victim of cruel soring, highlight the urgent need for Congress to swiftly pass the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act.

Hslf-soring-blog-300x200
Photo by the HSUS

The bill will close loopholes in the federal Horse Protection Act and end the abject cruelty of soring, a practice where Tennessee walking horses and other related breeds are tortured with caustic acids, chains and heavy stacked shoes, cutting, and other gruesome techniques to get them to fling their legs high in the air as they avoid the pain of stepping down. The exaggerated and artificial gait that is the result of such pain is referred to as the “Big Lick,” and it has been rewarded in the Tennessee walking horse industry in particular. The PAST Act would outlaw the show-ring use of devices that are integral to the soring process. It would increase penalties and abolish the failed system of industry self-policing that has encouraged this culture of abuse to fester unabated. 

The bill was introduced in the House in January and has already garnered 189 bipartisan cosponsors, and today a bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced the Senate companion bill, S. 1007.

There are countless examples of why this legislation is necessary, but one that particularly drives home the need is the saga of Honors and his trainer, Gary Edwards. It began when U.S. Department of Agriculture inspectors found Honors to be repeatedly in violation of the Horse Protection Act, resulting in his being disqualified from showing. Honors' owners, Daniel and Keith McSwain, sued the USDA in 2016 and found a judge who ruled in their favor, requiring that the federal agency hold a hearing before causing Honors to be disqualified at shows. The USDA did not appeal the decision. 

At the Tennessee Walking Horse Celebration (the breed’s largest competition) that year, the USDA inspected the horse but since it was not feasible to conduct a hearing in the middle of the show, it did not require show management to disqualify Honors. Despite clear evidence of soring abuse, the judges rewarded the McSwains with wins for Honors in his qualifying class and the World Grand Championship. Following Honors’ wins, the McSwains were cited and eventually disqualified for continuing to enter Honors  in shows despite the violations.

The USDA also finally decided to disqualify Gary Edwards, who trained and rode Honors at that 2016 Celebration, for three years for his role in showing the sored horse, but recently we learned that his penalty will not even start until 2022, allowing him to continue business as usual. Edwards’ brother,  Larry Edwards, was also cited by the USDA in connection with these incidents and will be disqualified for three years, but not until this September, after the next Celebration. 

This whole sordid tale illustrates just how a champion Tennessee walking horse is made. Industry participants, including owners of horses, trainers, and judges, thumb their noses at federal law, and continue to show—and crown as champions—horses who have been subjected to incredible cruelty. 

What it also shows is the lack of timely, effective enforcement by the USDA, charged with ensuring that the animals involved in these enterprises are not being subjected to cruelty. It is difficult to comprehend why the agency would wait this long to penalize a repeat violator whose career has been filled with numerous HPA citations and federal disqualifications, and why—if they justifiably believe he is a chronic, recidivist violator—they are waiting until 2022 to begin his disqualification. In the interim, Gary Edwards is free to continue soring his poor equine victims.

The PAST Act Senate companion bill, introduced by Sens. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, and Mark Warner, D-Va., has a solid bipartisan set of original cosponsors: Sens. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., Susan Collins, R-Maine, Edward Markey, D-Mass., Steve Daines, R-Mont., Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Patrick Toomey, R-Pa., Ron Wyden, D-Ore, and Bob Casey, D-Pa. The House bill, H.R. 693, was reintroduced by Representatives Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., and Ted Yoho, R-Fla., (both veterinarians) with Reps. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., Ron Estes, R-Kan., Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., and Chris Collins, R-N.Y.

“I support the humane treatment of all animals and the responsible training of horses. I remain committed to ending the cruel practice of soring, and will continue to promote enforcement of current animal welfare laws,” Senator Crapo said.

“Horses have been a part of our Commonwealth’s history and culture since the settling of Jamestown, and like all animals, they deserve to be treated with care and compassion,” said Sen. Warner. “The PAST Act will further protect these animals from the cruel practice of inflicting deliberate pain and suffering for show purposes.”

This is common-sense legislation and it is endorsed by a vast array of horse industry, veterinary, law enforcement, and animal protection groups and key individuals. The only ones who oppose it are those who are wanting to continue to get away with this cruelty. Soring is a practice that has been going on for more than 50 years, and one that never should have been allowed, let alone encouraged. Please contact your federal legislators and ask them to cosponsor and pass the PAST Act and put those who abuse horses out of business.

Kitty Block is President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States and President of Humane Society International, the international affiliate of the HSUS.

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