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Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Are your lawmakers making the grade?

We do our best to make it simple for voters to determine how federal lawmakers have sided on crucial animal protection legislation. That’s the purpose of the Humane Society Legislative Fund 2019 Humane Scorecard, a snapshot of each federal legislator’s record on animal issues for the first session of the 116th Congress. The scorecard scores a cross section of key matters of concern to the HSLF.

iStock Photo

This Congress has seen exciting progress, with both the House and Senate passing the PACT and RAWR Acts already, the House passing the PAST Act, and committees approving wildlife measures dealing with sharks, right whales, big cats, trophy imports, and multinational species conservation funding. Numerous pro-animal provisions await final resolution once the House and Senate reach agreement on FY 2020 Appropriations bills. 

As in previous years, animal protection issues continue to garner impressive bipartisan backing. The more members of Congress who publicly support a bill through cosponsorship—particularly when it’s solidly bipartisan—the more apparent it is to congressional leaders in both parties that the bill warrants consideration. Every bill we’re scoring for 2019 has strong leadership and support from both sides of the aisle.

The PACT animal cruelty bill passed the House with 302 cosponsors and passed the Senate with 41 cosponsors. The PAST Act on horse soring was approved by the House with 308 House cosponsors and has 50 Senate cosponsors. The shark fin sales bill passed both the House and Senate committees and has 288 House and 32 Senate cosponsors. The Horseracing Integrity Act has 198 House and 6 Senate cosponsors. The RAWR Act has 28 Senate and 4 House cosponsors and passed both chambers by voice vote. The big cats bill has 215 House cosponsors, the SAFE horse slaughter bill has 209 House cosponsors, the WOOF puppy mill bill has 178 House cosponsors, and the PREPARED bill on disaster planning has 171 cosponsors in the House.

There is still time to encourage your federal legislators to cosponsor these important animal protection bills, but they must act before Congress adjourns to get credit on this year’s scorecard. Please contact your U.S. representative and two U.S. senators to thank them for supporting any of the bills listed below that they have already cosponsored and urge them to join the rest. You can use our Find Your Federal Legislators tool, or call the Congressional Switchboard at 202-224-3121. Ask your friends and family to do the same.

Here are summaries of the bills whose cosponsors will count on the 2019 Humane Scorecard: 

Puppy Mills – H.R. 1002, the Welfare Of Our Friends (WOOF) Act, introduced by Reps. Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., Crist, D-Fla., G.T. Thompson, R-Pa., and McGovern, D-Mass. This bill will address serious deficiencies in USDA oversight by prohibiting the agency from renewing licenses of commercial dog breeders who have severe and multiple violations of the Animal Welfare Act. It’s time to end the lack of effective oversight that has perpetuated cruelty by violators found with dead and dying animals kept in filthy and unsafe conditions or denied basic veterinary care, food, water, and protection from extreme weather. WOOF will codify licensing reforms that the USDA itself has proposed as part of a pending rule on strengthening dog dealer standards

Disaster Preparedness – H.R. 1042, the Providing Responsible Emergency Plans for Animals at Risk of Emerging Disasters (PREPARED) Act, introduced by Reps. Titus, D-Nev., and P. King, R-N.Y. This bill will require facilities regulated under the Animal Welfare Act (commercial animal dealers, exhibitors, research laboratories, etc.) to submit annual contingency plans for the animals in their care during emergency situations such as natural disasters, power outages, and animal escapes. Given the increasing frequency and intensity of weather-related emergencies, it is particularly vital that these facilities have thought through in advance how to handle tasks such as evacuation, shelter-in-place, provision of backup food and water, sanitation, ventilation, and veterinary care. Disaster plans are already required under the accreditation process for research facilities, zoos and aquariums and for facilities doing NIH-funded research; this bill will ensure that puppy mills, roadside zoos, and other outliers also have plans in place.

Animal Cruelty – S. 479 and H.R. 724, the Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture (PACT) Act, introduced by Sens. Toomey, R-Pa., and Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Reps. Deutch, D-Fla., and Buchanan, R-Fla. This bill will strengthen the 2010 federal animal "crush video" law, which banned the creation, sale, and distribution of obscene videos that show live animals being intentionally crushed, burned, drowned, suffocated, impaled, or subjected to other heinous cruelty. The PACT Act will prohibit extreme animal cruelty when it occurs on federal property or affects interstate commerce regardless of whether a video is produced. This bill is designed to complement, and not compete with, the felony anti-cruelty statutes in all 50 states. The PACT Act is endorsed by over 100 law enforcement agencies across the country. It passed the House unanimously in October, and the Senate by unanimous consent last week.

Horse Soring – S. 1007, the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, introduced by Sens. Crapo, R-Idaho, and Warner, D-Va. This bill will crack down on the cruel practice of "soring" of Tennessee Walking Horses and related breeds to force them to perform a pain-based artificially high stepping gait and gain unfair competitive advantages at horse shows. This bill will end the failed system of industry self-policing, ban devices integral to soring, strengthen penalties, and hold abusers accountable – all for negligible cost as determined by the Congressional Budget Office. The PAST Act is endorsed by hundreds of stakeholder groups and individuals and major newspapers in Kentucky and Tennessee (the states where soring is most prevalent). The PAST Act (H.R. 693, introduced by Reps. Schrader, D-Ore., Yoho, R-Fla., and Cohen, D-TN) was approved by an overwhelming bipartisan vote of 333-96 in the House in July, and the identical legislation passed the Senate Commerce Committee in 2014.

Horse racing – S. 1820 and H.R. 1754, the Horseracing Integrity Act, introduced by Sens. Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and McSally, R-Ariz., and Reps. Tonko, D-N.Y., and Barr, R-Ky. This bill will address the widespread use of both legal and illegal drugs in racehorses, a key contributing factor to frequent fatalities on American racetracks. It will protect horses, jockeys, and the integrity of the sport by granting independent control over rule-making, testing, and enforcement oversight regarding drugs and medications to a new Authority created by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. It will specifically ban race-day medication, create a uniform medication policy for all 38 racing jurisdictions, and substantially increase out-of-competition testing for racehorses, and it is endorsed by a wide set of stakeholders in the horse racing industry and animal welfare community.

Horse Slaughter – H.R. 961, the Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act, introduced by Reps. Schakowsky, D-Ill., and Buchanan, R-Fla. This bill will protect horses and consumers by prohibiting the reopening of horse slaughter plants within the U.S. and export of American horses to slaughter for human consumption. Horse slaughter is inherently cruel due to the unique biology of horses, and the U.S. public overwhelmingly opposes it. Also, American horses are routinely given hundreds of drugs over their lifetimes that can be toxic to humans if ingested.

Shark Fin Sales – S. 877 and H.R 737, the Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act, introduced by Sens. Booker, D-N.J., and Capito, R-W.Va., and Reps. Sablan, D-N. Marianas, and McCaul, R-Texas. This bill will prohibit the import, export, trade, distribution, and possession for commercial purposes of shark fins and products containing shark fins, building on federal laws enacted in 2000 and 2010  that banned shark finning and the transport on U.S.-flagged vessels of fins not "naturally attached" to the carcass. It is crucial to eliminate the shark fin trade here because the U.S. is an end market and transit point for shark fins obtained in countries where finning and shark fishing are inadequately regulated or enforced, or on the high seas where no nation’s laws apply. This legislation received Senate committee approval in April and House committee approval in September.

Big Cats – H.R. 1380, the Big Cat Public Safety Act, introduced by Reps. Quigley, D-Ill., and Fitzpatrick, R-Pa. This bill will reduce the number of captive tigers, lions, cougars, and other big cats living in substandard conditions and protect public safety by banning exhibitor public contact activities and by prohibiting possession of big cats by individuals and entities lacking a USDA license. With public contact activities such as tiger cub petting, after just a few months, when the cubs are too large to be handled, they end up discarded at substandard roadside or traveling zoos or in private menageries where they can threaten public safety, while new litters are bred to supply the never-ending demand. Since 1990, more than 380 dangerous incidents involving captive big cats have occurred in 46 states and D.C.; 5 children and 19 adults have been killed, and hundreds of others have lost limbs or suffered other often-traumatic injuries. This bill closes loopholes in the Captive Wildlife Safety Act (P.L. 108-191) and will not impact professionally run zoos and sanctuaries or their conservation programs. H.R. 1380 received House committee approval in September.

Wildlife Trafficking – S. 1590, the Rescuing Animals With Rewards (RAWR) Act, introduced by Sens. Merkley, D-Ore., and Collins, R-Maine. This bill will authorize the U.S. Department of State to continue using its successful Transnational Organized Crime Rewards Program to target wildlife traffickers globally and combat sophisticated international crime networks, including known terrorist organizations. Wildlife trafficking is one of the most lucrative illicit trades in the world, bringing in over $10 billion a year in illegal profits and threatening endangered species worldwide. The RAWR Act (H.R. 97, introduced by Reps. Buchanan, R-Fla., and Titus, D-Nev.) passed the House in July and the Senate in October.

Please take a few minutes today to help us save animals by voicing your support for these critical bills. Whether your legislators have scores of zero, 100+, or somewhere in between, they need to know that you care about their positions on animal protection policy and are paying attention to their performance on animal issues. Your efforts to engage them meaningfully on these subjects will produce ever greater returns for animal protection in the future.

Friday, November 08, 2019

Louisville, KY, urges Sens. Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul to stop blocking efforts to end horse soring, pass PAST Act

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

Council members of the largest city in Kentucky last night adopted a resolution with a strong message for the state’s two U.S. Senators, Mitch McConnell and Rand Paul: co-sponsor and help enact the Prevent All Soring Tactics Act to end the torture of Tennessee walking horses and other related breeds.

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Photo by the HSUS

The PAST Act would close loopholes in the Horse Protection Act that have, for decades, allowed violators in the Tennessee walking horse show world to continue the abusive practice of “soring” – the intentional infliction of pain on a horse’s legs or hooves – to make the horse perform an artificial, high-stepping show ring gait known as the “Big Lick.” Because the U.S. Department of Agriculture has allowed the industry to police itself, those who hurt horses face minimal repercussions, get deferred disqualifications, and are typically allowed to continue carrying out the abuses that got them disqualified in the first place. PAST would replace the self-policing system with third party, independent inspectors who are trained, licensed and assigned by the USDA. The bill would also ban the devices integral to soring, and would strengthen penalties for soring.

Unfortunately, Sens. McConnell and Paul are co-sponsoring competing legislation, introduced by Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and supported by those engaged in horse soring, which allows the industry to continue policing itself with no accountability. Their sham alternative bill would actually make the problem worse by further weakening the USDA’s already limited authority and handing off more power to the perpetrators, while doing nothing to end the use of chains, heavy stacked shoes and other soring devices, or to establish meaningful penalties.

There’s plenty of momentum in Congress to pass the PAST Act into law this year. The bill has already cleared the House of Representatives by an overwhelming bipartisan majority of 333-96 in July, and a Senate companion bill introduced in April by Sens. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, and Mark Warner, D-Va., received its 50th cosponsor last week. With many other senators (including previous cosponsors) expected to support the bill, we clearly have the votes needed for passage. But the bill cannot progress unless Sen. McConnell brings it to the Senate floor for a vote.

That's why we are excited about the vote in Louisville: residents have told Sens. McConnell and Paul that they are tired of the current system, too, and of the abuse. They want change for the better, and they expect their elected officials in Congress to listen to their voices.

The resolution, which passed in the Metro Council of Louisville by unanimous vote, comes on the heels of a similar vote in Nashville, Tennessee, in August.

In addition to demanding action from Sens. McConnell and Paul, the resolution, introduced by Councilmember Marcus Winkler with support rallied by former HSUS Kentucky state director Kathryn Callahan, also urges the USDA to reinstate a rule against soring that was finalized by the Obama administration in 2017, but unlawfully withdrawn when the Trump administration took office. The Humane Society of the United States and Humane Society Legislative Fund are currently suing the USDA over this unlawful repeal.

We urge the Kentucky Senators to listen to the people who helped put them in office. It’s time our nation righted the wrongs that walking horses have endured for decades, and petty politics should not stand in the way of ending this cruelty. You too can help. If you live in Kentucky, please contact Sens. McConnell and Paul, and if you live anywhere else in the United States, look up your senators and urge them to cosponsor and work to pass the PAST Act. Let’s make this the year soring ends, as Congress intended nearly a half century ago when it passed the Horse Protection Act.

Kitty Block is President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States.

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

The November 2019 election: building political support, from the ground up

By Brad Pyle

For all sorts of reasons, we tend to pay attention to the big, top-of-the-ticket races and their potential impact on the welfare of animals. But the truth is that races at every level have consequences for animals—and this year’s election was no different. We saw the opportunity to greatly expand our work to state and local elections at a level we’ve never attempted before—and the results made us very glad we did.

Photo by Mark Bacon/Alamy Stock Photo

Earlier this year, HSLF reached out to over 1,000 candidates running for state legislatures, city councils, and federal office to evaluate their records and positions on animal welfare. Of course, this is something we had been doing on a smaller scale in the past. Since our founding in 2004, HSLF has issued endorsements, made independent expenditures to support or oppose candidates, and organized grassroots efforts to get out the vote for sympathetic officials in races across the nation. Fifteen years into this work, we’ve reached a new level, with candidates actively seeking our endorsements and promoting animal protection as part of their campaign platforms. 

That is some real progress, and a few examples will make the point.

In Newton, Massachusetts, Emily Norton was re-elected to the city council, where she will continue to be a champion for animal welfare legislation. Emily has been an animal advocate for decades and has served as a member of the HSUS State Council for over five years.

Another HSLF-endorsed candidate at the local level, Troy Markham, was re-elected to the city council in Bexley, Ohio by an overwhelming majority. Markham worked to update Bexley’s city code to restrict cruel types of tethering and strengthen sheltering requirements.

With several races still too close to call, nearly a dozen HSLF-backed candidates were re-elected to the General Assembly In New Jersey, which has a strong track record on animal protection, and we look forward to further progress in this state in 2020.

In Virginia, we saw several animal-friendly members of the State House of Delegates and State Senate re-elected, including Sen. Jennifer Boysko (D-Hendron), a reliable champion of our legislative priorities.

In Texas, we saw an important policy matter going directly to a popular vote. The state’s voters approved Proposition 10—which proposed a constitutional amendment authorizing the legislature to allow a state agency or political subdivision to transfer a law enforcement animal to the animal’s handler or another qualified caretaker at no cost, upon the animal’s retirement or at another time if the transfer is determined to be in the animal’s best interest. Currently, the Texas Constitution prevents the transfer of certain public property, such as law enforcement animals, to a private person or organization.  

In Kentucky, Matt Bevin lost his bid for re-election as Governor to challenger Andy Beshear. As a candidate for office five years ago, Bevin attended a cockfighting rally to gather support and votes, which we criticized.

At the Humane Society Legislative Fund, we work to give animals a voice in our political process. This year, we evaluated a record number of candidates at the state and local level, and in crucial instances, we put our money and our energy behind them. And many of you did, too. If you voted or volunteered for one of these candidates, thank you. If you sent funds in support of our work to elect them, or made contributions yourself, we appreciate it. We wanted to make animal protection a priority in this election, and because of you, we were able to do it.

Every election matters and is decided by those who vote—and to vote you must first be registered. Be vote-ready—update your voter registration here—and then ask your friends and others to register, too.

And do keep an eye on this space. We’ll roll out our Humane Scorecard in a few days, and we’re making big plans for election and political success in 2020. 


Brad Pyle is political director of the Humane Society Legislative Fund.

Tuesday, November 05, 2019

BREAKING NEWS: PACT Act passes U.S. Senate two weeks after clearing House; Bill now awaits Trump's signature

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

A long-awaited law that would make some of the most brutal acts of animal cruelty federal felonies is just one signature away from becoming reality.


The U.S. Senate moments ago unanimously passed the Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture (PACT) Act, a bill that will make certain malicious animal cruelty within federal jurisdiction, including crushing, burning, drowning, suffocating and impaling live animals, and sexually exploiting them, a federal crime.

The passage of this bill is a well-deserved victory for us and our colleagues at the Humane Society of the United States’ Animal Protection Litigation division, who were instrumental in helping the sponsors draft this legislation and have led the fight to pass the PACT Act for almost a decade now. The bill is a no-brainer for most Americans and this is the third time that the full Senate has voted to pass it. The House—where it had stalled in previous years—unanimously passed identical legislation two weeks ago, this time spurred by new leadership.

The PACT Act would strengthen the federal animal crush video law that was enacted in 2010 at the urging of the Humane Society of the United States and Humane Society Legislative Fund. This law banned the creation, sale, and distribution of obscene videos that show live animals being crushed, burned, drowned, suffocated, impaled, or subjected to other forms of heinous cruelty, but it had a significant gap. It gave federal prosecutors no legal recourse to hold perpetrators accountable for extreme cruelty when the crime happened on federal property or affected interstate commerce, unless an obscene video had been produced.

Our Animal Protection Litigation team had the foresight to recognize this deficiency in the law and to put forward the recommendation that became the PACT Act. The bill will remove the loophole by prohibiting these acts, regardless of whether a video has been produced, when they occur on federal property, such as federal prisons and national parks or in interstate commerce, including moving animals across state lines or information exchanged on websites that allows animal exploitation such as bestiality to occur.

We applaud Sens. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., for their persistence and leadership on seeing this bill through. They, along with the House sponsors—Reps. Ted Deutch, D-Fla., Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., and former Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas—have been tremendous champions of this cause.

The bill now heads to President Trump’s desk and we hope he will quickly sign it into law. Please call the White House switchboard at 202-456-1414 and ask to leave a comment urging the president to sign this bill. History—and media reports—are replete with examples of criminals who start out by hurting animals and move on to hurting humans. The sooner we can bring those who commit unspeakable acts of violence against innocent animals to justice, the safer our world will be for everyone.

Kitty Block is President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

HSUS- and HSLF-backed plan for wild horses and burros rejects slaughter, offers much-needed reprieve

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

America’s wild horses and burros have long been engulfed in a political quagmire, and their place on our western rangelands has been hotly contested for more than half a century. But a comprehensive, science-based management proposal promises to break the stalemate that has vexed stakeholders within and outside of government for decades, and spare tens of thousands of wild horses and burros from ongoing threats, including mass slaughter. The Senate Appropriations Committee recently committed an impressive $35 million to that plan, following the House of Representatives’ $6 million allocation to the same goal back in May.

Photo courtesy Mlenny/

This ambitious new plan has been advanced by the Humane Society of the United States and the Humane Society Legislative Fund, along with other humane advocates, ranching interests and other parties. For the past several years, there has been tremendous pressure to authorize the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to kill thousands of wild horses and burros as a “management” technique. That’s why the current proposal is striking. In forging it, we and other parties set aside our differences to secure the long-term future of wild horses and burros, as countless members of Congress pressed us to do. The proposal takes lethal control, including the slaughter of horses and burros, off the table along with surgical sterilization techniques, since none have been proven safe and humane, while acknowledging the need to continue limited removal of animals from the range in the short-term, to bring burgeoning populations in certain herd management areas under control.

It also places a much stronger burden upon the BLM to advance scaled-up, on-range fertility control initiatives and provides for strategic relocation of removed horses and burros to adoptive homes or long-term holding pastures. These pastures are expansive and replicate the animals’ natural environment as much as possible.

The proposal, properly funded by Congress and immediately implemented by the BLM, would eliminate any need for large-scale removals in six years. The BLM can begin to phase out holding facilities, its overall costs will go down, and a stable population of horses and burros can thrive on the range via fertility control management.

But every proposal, even the most balanced one, has its detractors. There's a meeting of the National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board taking place in Washington, D.C., this week with representatives from multiple interest groups and the public. In the run-up to the meeting, we’ve heard a few outside voices speaking out against the proposal (one of those inexplicably on the attack is a former colleague who directly championed such an approach with then-Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke two years ago). Some have insisted that fertility control alone will work on large populations without limited removals -- a notion that has been flatly rejected by scientists who have pioneered the field.

Those attacking the proposal also gloss over the point that in areas that are difficult to access, the only way to deliver fertility control to wild horses and burros is to round them up and administer it. It’s easy enough to oppose round-ups, but it’s disingenuous to do so in light of what we know about the science and practice of fertility control. Moreover, these few critics offer no solution of their own, and, however well-meaning their criticisms, their mischaracterization of the proposal at this time is matched by a disregard of the political landscape, the reality on the ground and the fact that each year we do nothing, the closer we are to seeing mass killings of these animals.

Members of Congress from both parties have expressed rising frustration over stakeholders’ refusal to collaborate on a long-term solution, and the hourglass is running out. Standing pat isn’t a strategy; it’s posturing and it will allow the removal of thousands of horses and burros to continue each year, without end.

We have a national obligation to wild horses and burros on our rangelands, one codified in the Wild and Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act of 1971. Sadly, the lack of a comprehensive approach and continued reluctance on the BLM’s part to implement safe and proven fertility control has put lives at risk. By choosing to implement the proposal we and other informed advocates have advanced, and by ensuring that Congress will stay involved to guarantee that the BLM implements it correctly, we‘ll position ourselves to make good on our nation’s promise to provide these wild inhabitants of the American west a chance to survive and flourish in perpetuity.

Read our FAQ about this proposal here.

Kitty Block is President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Scientists carry water for trophy hunting industry

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

For years now, trophy hunters have spun a web of lies to tie their ruthless killing of some of the world’s most at-risk animals to fake conservation benefits. A recent exchange in the prestigious Science magazine has laid bare links some scientists have with the trophy hunting lobby, and it has led to the magazine revising its own policy on how it identifies letter writers with ties to lobbying interests.

Michelle Riley/The HSUS

In August this year, the magazine published an open letter, “Trophy hunting bans imperil biodiversity,” led by five scientists from Oxford University’s wildlife conservation research unit and the International Union for Conservation of Nature, and signed by 128 more. The letter claimed trophy hunting has a positive impact on conservation, and Amy Dickman, one of the letter’s lead authors, appeared on the BBC, where she claimed that imposing a complete trophy hunting ban is likely to cause "more animals to die.”

The letter from Dickman and the others also argued against anti-trophy-hunting legislation, like the CECIL Act (Conserving Ecosystems by Ceasing the Importation of Large Animal Trophies Act) now in Congress, and claimed that banning imports of hunting trophies would undermine efforts to protect lions, elephants, and other endangered animals.

What the letter’s authors did not disclose—but was soon exposed by another letter, this time from a British non-governmental organization—is that four of the five authors of that letter, including Dickman, Rosie Cooney, Dilys Roe, and Maxi Pia Louis, had worked for organizations and projects that received funding from trophy hunting industry groups, including Dallas Safari Club, Safari Club International, Safari Club International Foundation, Russian Mountain Hunters’ Club, Wild Sheep Foundation, and NACSCO, a Namibian organization that supports trophy hunting initiatives.

Further, at least two of the signatories work for or advise Conservation Force, another trophy hunting group that has been working to weaken trophy import regulations and the Endangered Species Act in the United States.

Think about this for a moment: these are scientists affiliated with prestigious entities, like Oxford University and IUCN, who are publishing their scientific opinion in a prestigious journal without disclosing that they have ties to the industry that stands to benefit from the policy recommendations the scientists are advocating.

The editors of Science, in addition to making the authors of the original article declare their conflicts in writing in an addendum, immediately announced their policy on letters is now under revision to ensure that authors make readers aware of financial and advisory competing interests.

The magazine also published several more letters from other scientists and advocates who wrote in to refute the sham conservation claims made by the scientists supporting trophy hunting. We appreciate the magazine’s response and commitment to avoiding such a situation in the future by revising its policies.

There may also be good news forthcoming on the International Wildlife Conservation Council (IWCC), which we have been telling you about on this blog. This deceptively-named council created by the Trump administration is packed with trophy hunters and gun lobbyists who have successfully pushed our government to reverse several policies protecting endangered and threatened animals over the last three years. Last week, The Hill reported that the IWCC may soon be terminated, with Interior Secretary David Bernhardt telling members at a recent meeting that he “hasn’t yet decided” on the pathway forward for the committee. The pressure comes from a court challenge to the council, with its deep conflicts of interests, filed by the Humane Society of the United States and our partner groups.

Lawmakers in Congress are also stepping up the pressure against trophy hunting, and recently a bipartisan group of representatives, with the support of Humane Society Legislative Fund, the Humane Society of the United States, and Humane Society International, introduced a bill, the Prohibiting Threatened and Endangered Creature Trophies Act of 2019 (ProTECT) Act, to prevent the hunting of any species listed as endangered or threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

The trophy hunting industry is increasingly being exposed for what it is, and contrary to what they would have us believe, it is not an industry that benefits African economies, nor an industry that helps conserve endangered wildlife. All it really is, is a group of wealthy people who want to treat the world as their playground and mow down beautiful animals for fun so they can put their heads and hides on display in their living room. It’s time this industry is stopped in its tracks, and the deception is ended for good, and we are excited to see the progress being made on this on so many fronts.

Kitty Block is President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States.

VICTORY: Court rejects challenge to federal cockfighting ban in Puerto Rico, Guam and other U.S. territories

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

A federal court has rejected an attempt to stop Congress from closing a loophole that allowed cockfighters to continue operating in U.S. territories, including Puerto Rico and Guam, despite the fact that cockfighting is a felony in all U.S. states.

Photo by Heather Severt/the HSUS

Cockfighting organizations had challenged the ban, but a federal district court for the District of Puerto Rico ruled this week that Congress was well within its power to make amendments earlier this year to the Animal Welfare Act in order to clarify that an existing ban on cockfighting in all U.S. states applies equally to U.S. territories.

The court rejected all of the plaintiffs’ claims, including an argument that the law violates principles and rights protected under the U.S. Constitution, such as the right to free speech and association. "A live-bird fighting venture does not fall within any expressive or non-expressive protected conduct," the court said.

The court also declined to stay implementation of the law while the plaintiffs seek an appeal of this ruling, meaning the law will take effect as planned on December 20 this year.

Earlier this month, the Department of Justice had filed a brief strongly defending the expansion of the law.

Cockfighting is a despicable business that pits one animal against another for gambling and entertainment, and it is a felony in all U.S. states. But unless U.S. territories are included in the ban, we cannot truly wipe out these bloody spectacles entirely. Puerto Rico and Guam are a hub for American cockfighting, with enthusiasts openly raising birds and participating in fights. Cockfighting arenas are even located near airports to attract tourist dollars.

A ban on cockfighting can also protect communities from crimes associated with animal fighting, like illegal drug dealing and human violence, and from disease transmission risks, including bird flu and diseases that can decimate poultry flocks. Moreover, it’s also what a majority of Puerto Ricans want—a 2017 poll of 1,000 registered voters found that two out of three Puerto Ricans favor a ban on cockfighting.

For all of these reasons, and for the sake of the millions of birds who are now trapped in a gruesome industry that profits off their injury and death, we applaud the court’s ruling. These protections for roosters are long-overdue and well-deserved, and we are excited that very soon, they will be in effect in every U.S. jurisdiction, with no exceptions.

Kitty Block is President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

BREAKING NEWS: NIH reneges on promise, will not send 44 research chimpanzees to sanctuary

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

In a stunning about-face on its own promise, the National Institutes of Health today announced it will not send 44 chimpanzees, now held by the Alamogordo primate laboratory in New Mexico, to sanctuary.

Photo by Crystal Alba/Project Chimps

Just last October, National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins reiterated the agency’s full commitment to retire all chimpanzees it owns or supports to the federal sanctuary Chimp Haven, saying that there would be very limited exceptions. These are animals who have spent their lifetimes in metal cages and they deserve to enjoy the rest of their days in an environment that simulates, to the best extent possible, the natural surroundings of a chimpanzee in the wild.

Dr. Collins had clearly stated that the only exception to retiring the chimpanzees would be in cases where relocation would severely or irreversibly accelerate deterioration of the chimpanzee’s physical or behavioral health. Today’s agency announcement contradicts that promise.

The NIH claimed that "it would be a serious risk to the chimpanzees’ health to move them." There were many flaws with the process that the NIH followed in deciding the chimpanzees’ fate: the panel was certainly not “independent” as it was made up of NIH’s own veterinarians and it did not include a veterinarian with sanctuary experience nor a primate behaviorist nor an ethicist. We expressed these concerns when the panel was created and had hoped they wouldn’t simply rubber-stamp the laboratory’s request to keep the chimpanzees confined at their facility for the rest of the animals’ lives while the laboratory continues to receive taxpayer dollars. Unfortunately, that is exactly what happened. There is no clear evidence that the long-term welfare of the chimpanzees was actually considered in making this decision.

We know that chimpanzees who are sent to sanctuary see an immense improvement in the quality of their lives. Since the inception of Chimp Haven, hundreds of chimpanzees, of all ages and health conditions, have moved there. There has not been a single death during transport and there are incredible stories of chimpanzees who have thrived at the sanctuary, including a chimpanzee named Grandma who was deemed as fragile when retired to Chimp Haven in 2005, yet lived happily there for another 10 years, reaching the age of 62.

We are putting NIH on notice that this fight is not over. Chimpanzees are our closest relatives in the animal kingdom, and we share 99 percent of our DNA with these sentient and intelligent animals. HSLF and the HSUS have been working for a long time to end the use of chimpanzees in experiments and to get them to retirement in sanctuary and we will not let the NIH blindside the American public and let the chimpanzees suffer through the rest of their lives in the confines of a laboratory. We’re now evaluating our options for judicial review to compel the NIH to honor its obligation under the Chimpanzee Health Improvement and Maintenance Protection (CHIMP) Act, which requires that all government-owned chimpanzees deemed no longer necessary for research be retired to the national sanctuary. The NIH has a responsibility to all Americans to ensure that these animals, who have suffered their whole lives, finally get the quality of life—and a retirement—they deserve, at Chimp Haven.

Please take a moment to send a message to the NIH and urge them to reassess their decision to not retire these chimps.

Kitty Block is President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

ProTECT Act introduced in Congress to ban trophy hunting horror show

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

President Trump has called trophy hunting a “horror show,” but on his watch, the Department of the Interior has dismantled regulations to protect wildlife and made it easier to import trophies of endangered and threatened animals. We have been encouraging members of Congress to step up the pressure against trophy hunting by Americans, and today a bipartisan group of representatives introduced the Prohibiting Threatened and Endangered Creature Trophies Act of 2019 (ProTECT) Act, which will help prevent the hunting of any species listed as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

Photo by Vanessa Mignon

The measure, introduced by Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, Ted Lieu, D-Calif., and Pete King, R-N.Y., would disallow permits for killing these animals at canned hunting facilities in the United States and ban the import of trophies of ESA-listed species, including lions, elephants, leopards and rhinos.

Trophy hunters pay enormous sums to travel the world to kill rare and iconic wildlife, with the primary motivation of obtaining animal parts (their heads, hides, claws or even the whole stuffed animal) for mere display and bragging rights. Many of the species trophy hunters target, including the African lion, African elephant, African leopard, and black rhino, are at risk of extinction.

Sadly, the United States is the world’s largest importer of hunting trophies; between 2005 and 2014, a staggering 1.26 million wildlife trophies were imported into the country. This number includes the trophies of thousands of federally-protected animals, including 5,600 African lions and 4,600 African elephants. 

The current administration has exacerbated the problem: in 2017, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) dismantled Obama-era regulations on trophy imports and announced that it would allow lion imports from Zambia and Zimbabwe. The agency signaled it would approve all trophy imports on a case-by-case basis, shielding these import permits from the public eye—a decision the HSUS, HSI and our partners have challenged in court.

The ProTECT Act would also cover endangered and threatened animals who are used for target practice here in the United States, in canned hunting operations. As difficult as it may be to believe, exotic endangered species like the scimitar-horned oryx, Dama gazelle, addax, Arabian oryx, barasingha, and yak can all be purchased by trophy hunters right here in our country and then shot in fenced enclosures with not even a shred of fair chase involved.

The FWS issues permits to allow these species to be killed in captive hunts in the United States and that’s a problem, because it creates an additional market for trophies from endangered and threatened species by fueling trophy hunters’ desires and may further encourage illegal poaching in the animals’ native habitat.

Hunters, trophy hunting trade organizations, and the current leadership at FWS argue that trophy hunting contributes to species conservation efforts abroad. But scientific studies have demonstrated the opposite, especially since the targeted species are already under siege by poachers, wildlife traffickers, and habitat loss. Trophy hunting depletes wildlife populations because hunters routinely kill the largest and strongest males, upsetting social equilibrium and diminishing species recovery efforts. Trophy hunting revenue doesn’t pass the cost-benefit test either. A 2017 economic report, commissioned by Humane Society International and conducted by Economists at Large, revealed that trophy hunting makes minimal contributions to African economies and jobs.

The majority of Americans deeply dislike trophy hunting and the import of hunting trophies into this nation. A 2017 nationwide poll released by the Humane Society of the United States showed that 69 percent of voters oppose trophy hunting altogether. Voters also oppose allowing American trophy hunters to bring home the bodies or parts of the elephants and lions they kill abroad by a margin of more than five to one.

Trophy hunting is a true scourge, and that’s why we invest so much time and so many resources to fight it both here and abroad. The ProTECT Act is a vital step toward ensuring the survival of the world’s most at-risk species, and we welcome it. It’s a top priority for the Humane Society Legislative Fund, Humane Society International, and the HSUS in Congress this year. It’s not too late to save these species from extinction, and our government can be an instrument of good on this issue. Please take a moment to ask your U.S. House Representative to support this important bill.

Kitty Block is President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

BREAKING NEWS: U.S. House passes PACT Act cracking down on extreme animal cruelty

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

The U.S. House has just voted overwhelmingly to crack down on some of the worst and most malicious acts of animal cruelty, including crushing, burning, drowning, suffocating, and impaling live animals and sexually exploiting them. The watershed vote takes us one step closer to a federal anti-cruelty statute that would allow the FBI and other federal law enforcement agencies to arrest and prosecute those who commit such unspeakable crimes against innocent animals.


The vote is especially heartening because while the PACT Act has been introduced in previous Congresses—and it has unanimously passed the Senate twice—the former House Judiciary Committee chair had refused to move the bill despite the wide support it enjoyed among members. Now, with new leadership in the House pushing the bill to victory, we are hopeful that the Senate will soon act again on a companion version, and push this legislation over the finish line.

The PACT Act builds on the federal animal crush video law that was enacted in 2010 at the urging of the Humane Society Legislative Fund and the Humane Society of the United States. This law banned the creation, sale, and distribution of obscene videos that show live animals being crushed, burned, drowned, suffocated, impaled, or subjected to other forms of heinous cruelty. But the law has a gap that needs to be addressed: federal prosecutors have no recourse to hold perpetrators accountable unless an obscene video has been produced.

The PACT Act will remove that loophole by prohibiting these acts when they occur on federal property, such as federal prisons and national parks, regardless of whether a video has been produced. It would also allow federal authorities to crack down on animal cruelty that affects interstate or foreign commerce, including moving animals across state lines or information exchanged on websites that allows animal exploitation such as bestiality to occur.

This bill is supported by the National Sheriffs’ Association, the Fraternal Order of Police, the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, the National Children’s Advocacy Center, and Domestic Violence Intervention Services, Inc., and more than 100 law enforcement agencies across the country. In July, we hosted an event on Capitol Hill where we were joined by the bill’s sponsors, several rescue dogs and an extraordinary high school student from Potomac, Maryland, named Sydney Helfand, who started a petition at to pass the PACT Act.  Her petition gathered more than 650,000 signatures, illustrating the wide support this issue enjoys among members of the public, including young people, and the momentum behind passing this bill.

We congratulate Reps. Ted Deutch D-Fla., and Vern Buchanan R-Fla., who sponsored the PACT Act in the House, and the bill’s 297 cosponsors, for their vision and persistence in seeing this important bill through. In the coming weeks, we will be pushing with our collective might for the passage of the identical Senate companion bill, which was introduced by Sens. Pat Toomey R-Pa., and Richard Blumenthal D-Conn., and already has the bipartisan support of 38 Senators.   

We know by now that animal cruelty is an indicator of social pathology and those who commit crimes against humans often start out by hurting animals. It is a pattern of violence that is both common and well-documented, and it adds to the urgency of passing this commonsense law. Let’s make this the year we pass the PACT Act, so those who commit the worst crimes against animals do not go scot-free.

Kitty Block is President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States.

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