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Friday, February 21, 2020

A year after his rescue from a Houston home, Loki the tiger enjoys sanctuary and reminds us why big cats are not pets

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

The cat playing with a blue buoy in the video looks adorable and will put a smile on your face, but it is important to remember that Loki is no pet. The 300-pound tiger was, however, being kept as one when he was found living in a cage inside a Houston home one year ago this month.

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Photo by JP Bonnelly
Loki enjoying his habitat at Black Beauty Ranch

It was a terrible life, by any measure: the tiger had hardly any space to move inside the cage and he was sitting on rotting meat, mold, maggots and his own waste. His legs were scalded by urine. It was no way for such a regal and majestic animal to live.

Flash forward a year and Loki is now living the good life, as far as can be from the horror of that filthy cage. At the Fund for Animals’ Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch, which is now his permanent home, Loki has all of his caregivers’ attention and a spacious habitat that mimics living in the wild as closely as possible.

Loki was brought to the ranch soon after his rescue by the Houston Police Department and BARC, the city's animal service department, and he bore many scars of his past. His caregiver, Christi Gilbreth, who used positive reinforcement techniques to prepare him for any medical procedures, remembers he still acted as if he was in a cage and would not reach for treats higher than a foot or two.

“He had no idea that there was room for him to stand higher and acted as though he was limited in his space. This was likely because the cage he was found in was only waist high where he had limited movement and was never able to stand to his full height on his hind legs,” she says.

He also appeared to have had no previous exposure to a large natural setting, and it took him a bit of time to relax and enjoy swimming, climbing, playing and exploring.

Now, Loki spends his time in the tree- and grass-lined habitat playing and sleeping most of the day, as all cats do.

“He has lots of options to choose his favorite spot in the sun to sleep. Whether it’s under a tree, next to his pool, or up high on a platform, where you can normally find him,” Noelle Almrud, the director of Black Beauty Ranch, tells me.

In the habitat next door is Alex, another tiger with a sad story of his own—he was rescued along with about a dozen other wild animals after their owner abandoned them, without food or water. Tigers are solitary in the wild, and at the ranch, Loki and Alex can see each other but don’t show any interest in living in the same habitat. Our Black Beauty Ranch staff is keeping their options open, though, and Noelle tells me that if they wanted to be together, the staff would work to introduce them, but if they’re happy being apart, that’s fine too.

Black Beauty Ranch, along with the Humane Society of the United States, is a founding member of the Big Cat Sanctuary Alliance, an association of more than 20 reputable sanctuaries and partner organizations working to end the exploitation of big cats like Loki and Alex in the United States. Clearly, there are far too many big cats in the hands of people who have no business keeping such large, dangerous animals with complex needs. That's why we are now working to secure passage of the Big Cat Public Safety Act in Congress, which would ban the possession of big cat species like tigers and lions by unqualified individuals and prohibit their exploitation by poorly run roadside zoos that allow public contact with big cats. Such facilities’ use of big cat cubs for the public to pet, play with and take photos with is a main driver of our country’s surplus of big cats kept in horrible captive conditions.

At Black Beauty Ranch, as Noelle reminds us, the only interaction caregivers have with the animals is for basic medical procedures and disaster preparedness and response. The animals are trained to stand on a scale so they can be weighed, or loaded into a transport crate or retreat into their dens if they need to be secured in case of bad weather or unforeseen emergency. They will also lean their hip towards the fence for annual vaccinations and the caregivers are now working on doing training for a voluntary blood draw through the tail (which can be accessed through the fence).

“This is their home and we are here to provide the highest quality of life for the rest of their life. But we do it all with the safety of the cats and staff in mind and the training is completely voluntary on the cats’ part,” Noelle says. “We never go in with them, we don’t pet them, we never try to tame them. These are wild animals, and we never underestimate their intelligence or strength.”

Please take a moment to contact your federal legislators and urge them to cosponsor the Big Cat Public Safety Act if they haven’t yet, and do all they can to get it passed

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

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

BREAKING NEWS: On Congress’s orders, USDA begins restoring inspection reports for puppy mills, roadside zoos and other facilities

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

Three years ago, the U.S. Department of Agriculture inexplicably blacked out records of inspections at puppy mills, roadside zoos, facilities that do invasive research on animals, walking horse shows and other operations, leaving those who use—and potentially abuse— animals in their care with little or no accountability for their actions. Today, following a directive from Congress, the agency began restoring these records online, marking an important win for animals, for American consumers, and for animal advocates who fought long and hard for this outcome.

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Photo by Meredith Lee/The HSUS

The saga began in early February 2017, shortly after the Trump administration took office. The USDA purged from its website the searchable database of Animal Welfare Act and Horse Protection Act inspection reports and enforcement records on some 9,000 licensed facilities and operations that use animals, with no clear explanation of why it was doing so. The purge left Americans in the dark, and was clearly an attempt to keep groups like ours from holding the USDA accountable for its enforcement efforts and from getting the data we need to expose potential animal abuse at these facilities.

What the blackout did achieve was giving AWA and HPA violators the cover they wanted to continue their substandard and frequently abusive animal handling practices with no worry of public scrutiny. The HSUS has relied for years on USDA inspection data to come up with resources like our annual Horrible Hundred reports that educate consumers on problem puppy mills. Although our intrepid researchers continued to create these reports even after the blackout, by sourcing information from state inspection records or by posting partial information without specific business names, the blackout of the USDA records made their job that much harder, if not impossible.

The purge was only the beginning, however. In the months and years that followed, the USDA continued to cut down on its oversight of businesses that use animals and its enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act and Horse Protection Act—a fact reported with concern in national media outlets like the Washington Post.

We brought you news about these developments as they occurred even as we kept up a multi-faceted fight to end the blackout. We filed requests for the inspection and enforcement records under the Freedom of Information Act, took the battle to court when the USDA redacted the identities of the animal abusers from the records they released, and we successfully mobilized members of Congress to join us in this important fight.

Soon after the records were taken down, the Humane Society Legislative Fund worked with a bipartisan group of 120 Representatives and Senators who wrote to the Trump administration demanding that the documents be available again. Over the years, our allies in Congress also urged the USDA, through the yearly appropriations bills, to repost these vital records.

Most importantly, in December 2019, Congress enacted a provision in the FY20 appropriations bill, issuing a clear mandate to the USDA to reinstate full, searchable public access to all AWA and HPA records without redactions. We are grateful to the 39 Senators and 188 Representatives and the appropriators—particularly House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Sanford Bishop, D-Ga.—for taking on this issue through the appropriations legislation and seeing it through to victory. The bill, signed into law on December 20th, required the agency to restore the purged records on its website within 60 days of the bill’s enactment, and continue posting such records moving forward. Today marks the end of the 60-day period.

However, the fight isn’t yet over. So far, the USDA has posted online the inspection reports it removed in February 2017 and most of those generated since, but it has not yet posted the other AWA and HPA enforcement documents that show what actions the USDA took in response to detected violations (the agency claims those will be posted within the next 60 days). In addition, from our initial review, the documents do not seem to be easily searchable, as they were before the purge.

Finally, the current database of inspection reports is much less user-friendly than the comprehensive database that was taken down in 2017, and many of the violations are simply listed as “no access,” indicating that licensees have been avoiding having non-compliances on their records by simply not opening their doors to inspectors. Also, the enforcement of these laws continues to be weak, as the Washington Post reported in August, with a 92 percent drop in enforcement cases between 2016 and 2019.

We are monitoring the USDA website closely, and we will not stop until all of the inspection records—and enforcement actions—are restored in full. We call upon the USDA to do so swiftly. Our government should not be in the business of protecting those who break violate or flaunt the law, and American taxpayers should have all the information they need to ensure that those who hurt animals do not continue to profit off them.

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

Friday, February 14, 2020

Poster children for the SAFE Act: Kill buyers fined again

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

Some of the people and interests tied to cruelty to animals seem to come right from central casting. That’s going to help us succeed in our efforts to secure passage of the Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act, H.R. 961/S. 2006, to permanently ban domestic horse slaughter and end the export of American horses for slaughter abroad.

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iStock Photo

It’s just come to light that a USDA Administrative Law Judge not long ago served up a bit of justice to two kill buyers, the owners of Stanley Bros Farm, fining the company $4000 for multiple violations of the federal government’s Commercial Transport of Equines to Slaughter regulations. This is the latest fine imposed on the Louisiana-based company which operates a kill pen and ships horses to Mexico for slaughter, and it was imposed in the aftermath of an investigation by the group Animals’ Angels.

Every year, kill buyers like the Stanley Brothers funnel tens of thousands of American horses—working, racing, and companion horses, and even children’s ponies—into the international horse meat trade, going from auction to auction and gathering up young and healthy horses, often misrepresenting their intentions, to send them to slaughter for human consumption overseas. The Stanleys were found to have used forged health certificates, obscured the origin of the horses they shipped to Mexico for slaughter, failed to produce the necessary owner/shipper certificates, and neglected to provide time and location reports concerning the loading of the horses.

It is just these kinds of violations that led the European Union to place a moratorium on horsemeat imports from Mexico, in part to protect EU consumers from ingesting toxic drugs that such horses may have routinely consumed during their lives. Walk into any horse stable in the country, and you’ll find at least one product labeled “not intended for use on animals destined for human consumption.” Researchers with the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico found horsemeat present in raw and cooked samples sold as beef or poorly labeled in butcher shops, markets and informal selling locations such as street stalls in six Mexican cities. Their study also found high levels of clenbuterol, a veterinary drug not approved for use in animals in the food supply, in some raw meat samples.

And it’s just these kinds of violations that make a final and lasting prohibition of the slaughter of American horses for human consumption in the United States and abroad both necessary and urgent. There’s no way to resolve the many problems caused by fraudulent practices in the industry, without a final and full stop ban on a practice that is abhorrent to countless Americans. In truth, there’s no way to make the trade less cruel at all, for the slaughter of horses cannot be done humanely given their pronounced flight response and anatomy.

Thankfully, we’ve seen recent progress in the fight to end horse slaughter, as there was an encouraging hearing on the SAFE Act in the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Health Subcommittee at the end of January. Over half the members of the U.S. House of Representatives are now cosponsors, and the Senate bill, introduced by U.S. Sens. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) also has bipartisan support.

It’s often forgotten that kill buyers are out there outbidding rescue groups and families who could offer many of these horses loving and permanent homes. Just last fall, a six year old quarter horse saved from a kill pen and his 13 year old owner placed among the top twenty contestants in the single largest breed show in the world. This was so heartening to us.

We’ve said it for a long time: horse slaughter is a grim and ugly business, and it’s beneath the status of a great nation to let it carry on in light of all we’ve seen and all that Americans believe. We don’t eat horses, and more than 80 percent of Americans don’t approve of their being hauled over long distances to Canada or Mexico, to be inhumanely killed for an overseas market in their flesh.

The Stanleys aren’t the only bad faith actors in the horsemeat trade; they’re simply the ones in the news cycle today. But their way of doing business says all that we need to know about the transport and killing of horses for foreign meat exports. It’s cruel to the horses, it’s potentially unsafe for consumers, and it’s a waste of U.S. taxpayer dollars. It’s time to put a stop to the slaughter of American horses for human consumption and pass the SAFE Act.

Please take a moment to contact your federal legislators and urge them to cosponsor the SAFE Act if they haven’t yet, and do all they can to get it passed!

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

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

At SCI convention, trophy hunters rub shoulders with Donald Trump Jr. and USFWS director; undercover investigation reveals potentially illegal sales of elephant, stingray and hippo skins

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

At the Safari Club International’s annual convention each year, wealth, privilege and power come together with a revolting goal: mowing down the world’s rarest and most beloved wildlife. This year’s event in Reno was no different. Trophy hunters heard speeches from guest of honor Donald Trump Jr. and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Director Aurelia Skipwith, shelled out tens of thousands of dollars to kill endangered rhinos, lions and polar bears, and kicked back to the music of the Beach Boys.

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Photo by Vanessa Mignon

But, as our undercover investigators who were on site discovered, there were potentially illegal goings-on at the event as well. Exhibitors peddled boots and belts made with elephant, hippo and stingray skins in what appears to be a violation of Nevada’s law on wildlife trafficking. The state forbids trade in the body parts and products of these endangered and threatened animals.

Customers could also get accessories made to order with the animal skins, some dyed in garish colors. The going rate for giraffe skin boots was nearly $1,400 and kangaroo skin boots were nearly $1,100.

It wasn’t just dead animal parts on sale. The lives of 860 animals were auctioned off at the four-day event. As you can see in our undercover footage, vendors glibly offered canned lion hunts, where trophy hunters can pick out and kill defenseless animals bred in captivity with nowhere to run. Also on offer was a $6,000 hunt for any six animals that a customer can choose to kill in South Africa, including zebras, wildebeest, warthogs, impalas, hartebeest, gemsbok, nyala and waterbuck. A polar bear hunt in Canada was offered for $35,000.

Also on offer: a critically endangered black rhino hunt for $350,000, and an Asiatic black bear hunt for $15,000 in Russia, among others. There even was a “Trump special” for $25,000 to kill buffalo, sable, roan and crocodiles. An outfitter peddling a giraffe hunt told our investigator the hunt costs “only” $1,200 because they have “too many giraffes” and need to “get rid of the animals.” This at a time when the U.S. is considering listing the giraffe under the Endangered Species Act and two giraffe subspecies were recently listed as critically endangered under the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

By the time the convention wrapped up on Saturday, two winners had paid a total of $340,000 for a “dream hunt” on a luxury yacht in Alaska with Trump Jr. to kill back-tailed deer and sea ducks.

The HSUS and HSI send undercover investigators to the convention each year so that we can shine a global spotlight on this grisly world. As you can see from our video footage, this is not an event most people would want to frequent. In addition to the vendors carrying out a callous trade in animal lives, everywhere you look are the stuffed carcasses of lions, Cape buffalo, bears, wolves, mountain lions and leopards. This year’s displays included an ibex mountain goat killed by Trump, Jr. On the walls are portraits of hunters grinning alongside their kills or posing proudly holding open the mouths of the dead animals.

Many of these species on offer for the killing already face multiple threats from poachers or are falling victim to climate change and habitat loss. But for the SCI and its members, the rarer the animals are, the greater the thrill of killing them.

Fortunately, the tide is turning, as Americans lose their patience with the havoc trophy hunters wreak on our planet. Earlier this week we announced that in response to a lawsuit brought by the Humane Society of the United States and Humane Society International, the Trump administration shut down a sham trophy hunters’ panel that was advising the government on wildlife trade policy. Last month, a Canadian chapter of SCI was forced to shut down its auction for an elephant hunt in Botswana—the first since the country reopened trophy hunting elephants last year. Attendance at the SCI convention itself is dropping each year. And increasingly, Americans and people the world over are sharing their disgust of trophy hunters and their exploits on social media.

We look forward to the day when we won’t have to send our investigators to the SCI convention, because there won’t be one. But until that day comes, our fight to stop industry groups like the SCI will continue. American trophy hunters kill more endangered and threatened animals around the globe than hunters anywhere in the world, and we will hold them to account. We are pushing for Congress to pass two bills, the CECIL Act and ProTECT Act, that would rein in trophy imports of such species from overseas. No one needs to decorate their walls with the heads and hides of endangered or other at-risk animals, and it’s time we, as a nation, stop this unnecessary killing for good.

Read the full investigative report here.

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

Monday, February 10, 2020

Breaking news: Lawsuit prompts shutdown of trophy hunters’ panel in Trump administration

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

A panel of trophy hunters appointed by the Trump administration to advise the federal government on international wildlife trade policy has bitten the dust.

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Photo courtesy of iStock.com

Following a lawsuit filed by a coalition that included Humane Society International and the Humane Society of the United States, the Department of the Interior last week disbanded the International Wildlife Conservation Council, a committee that in every sense embodied the “fox in the henhouse” idiom.

The IWCC was appointed in 2017 by then-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, a trophy hunter himself. It was made up almost entirely of trophy hunters and gun industry lobbyists from groups like the NRA and Safari Club International who were charged with exploring the “benefits” international trophy hunting produces for foreign wildlife and habitat conservation.

In the two years that the IWCC was in existence, at a cost of $250,000 per year to taxpayers, the United States, not surprisingly, saw some of the worst policy decisions ever taken on endangered and threatened wildlife, most of them coming from the Department of the Interior and one of its agencies, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

In 2018 and 2019, for example, IWCC members pressed for the lifting of prohibitions on imports of elephant and lion trophies from Tanzania, prohibited under the Obama administration, and in 2019, the USFWS did indeed issue an import permit for a lion trophy from Tanzania, the first since the species was listed as threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act in 2016. The Trump administration also issued permits to three Americans to import trophies of endangered black rhinos they had killed.

The case our coalition brought challenged the IWCC’s legality because its members had a clear bias and were not acting in the public interest by promoting the trophy hunting of threatened and endangered species like elephants, lions, leopards and rhinos. Moreover, the panel unlawfully met behind closed doors, shutting authentic conservationists and other stakeholders out of important discussions and giving self-interested IWCC panel members all the freedom they needed to grease the wheels for their own ends.

There’s a lesson to be learned from the history of this terrible panel, rightly disbanded in response to our actions and complaints. Trophy hunting is on the decline around the world, by many indications, but the lobbies that support this gruesome pastime are forever on the lookout for opportunities to influence those in power and bring back bad practices. And we must engage them each and every time to stop them in their tracks.

Fortunately, Congress is also moving against trophy hunting. The Conserving Ecosystems by Ceasing the Importation of Large Animal Trophies (CECIL) Act, H.R. 2245, introduced by House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., would substantially restrict the import and export of trophies of any species listed or proposed to be listed under the Endangered Species Act and prohibit the import of elephant and lion trophies from Zimbabwe, Zambia and Tanzania. The Prohibiting Threatened and Endangered Creature Trophies (ProTECT) Act, H.R. 4804, introduced by Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, Ted Lieu, D-Calif., and Pete King, R-N.Y., would prohibit trophy hunting of ESA-listed species in the United States and the import of any trophy of a species listed under the ESA.

American trophy hunters kill more endangered and threatened animals around the world than hunters from any other country. That’s why the Humane Society Legislative Fund lobbied key congressional members and encouraged our constituents to weigh in against the continuation of the flawed IWCC. Now we’re pushing for the CECIL Act and the ProTECT Act to become law, and you can help by calling your members of Congress. Ask them to support these important bills so the world’s wildlife, already under threat because of climate change, habitat degradation and poaching, gets a reprieve from the completely unnecessary threat of trophy hunting.

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

Thursday, February 06, 2020

Miami seizure highlights need to pass federal ban on shark fin trade

The news out of Florida was shocking: earlier this week, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials confiscated 1400 pounds of detached shark fins valued at nearly $1 million at PortMiami. Investigators found severed fins stashed out of sight in 18 boxes in a ship docked at the port.

The shipment violated the Lacey Act, which prohibits trade in fish, wildlife and plants in violation of U.S. and foreign law. Some of the fins seized also came from species protected by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.  

GREAT-WHITE-SHARK-ISTOCK_56157656_344675_467604 (1)This episode underscores the urgency for passage of the Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act, S. 877, which would end all commercial trade in the United States of shark fins and products containing shark fins. There is already clear momentum behind the bill, with the U.S. House counterpart passing overwhelmingly by a vote of 310 to 107 in November. The PortMiami seizure is also Exhibit A for passage of H 401/S 680, a state bill to prohibit the shark fin trade in Florida, which has cleared one committee in the Florida Senate, and two in the state House. 

The shipment, which originated in South America and was likely headed to Asia, also validates the findings of a new report published by NRDC, which casts the United States as an important transit hub for shark fin shipments between these two continents. There are nations in Central America that ship as much as one-third to one-half of all their shark fins through U.S. ports.  Many of these shipments may be in violation of U.S. law, international agreements or both, creating an urgent need for increased monitoring of in-transit shark fin shipments. Despite both U.S. and international laws that regulate the shark fin trade, shark fin shipments passing through this country are only rarely inspected to ensure that these transshipments comply with international regulations.

By allowing these fins—including the fins of protected shark species—to transit its borders, the United States is facilitating unrestricted trade in shark fins from Latin America, which is one of the world’s most significant shark killing zones.

Americans overwhelmingly oppose this brutal trade, in which fins from as many as 73 million sharks are traded globally each year. Worse, the trade—driven by market demand for shark fin soup—is pushing many shark species toward extinction.

There is certainly no case to be made for the shark fin trade as necessary and lucrative. An Oceana report, for example, highlights how shark-related diving and tourism activities generated 200 times more revenue in Florida than the fin trade in the entire U.S. In 2016, shark-related diving in Florida produced over $221 million in revenues and more than 3,700 jobs.

State level bans are critical, and in January, New Jersey became the most recent of 14 states to pass legislation to limit or ban the sale of shark fins.  Acting under one of these statutes, authorities in Texas filed charges for the illegal selling of shark fins and shark fin products at various restaurants and markets. 

The shark fin trade represents a classic battle for organizations like ours, which were founded precisely to bring the fight to large-scale cruelties, wherever they occur, however they occur, and whoever may be responsible for them. We’re involved in worldwide efforts to save sharks, with all of the tools we have and with all of the resources we can muster.  It’s especially important that we secure the most strenuous protection possible and rein in trade in shark fins from endangered and threatened species within our borders.

Please take a moment to contact your two U.S. Senators and ask them to cosponsor the Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act if they haven’t yet, and do all they can to get it passed!

Wednesday, February 05, 2020

Breaking news: U.S. House approves bill to pair veterans with service dogs

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

The U.S. House has just approved a bill that would expand opportunities for veterans to get involved with training and adopting service dogs, leading to better lives for both the animals and the people helping them.

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Photo by Mark Bacon/Alamy Stock Photo

The PAWS for Veterans Therapy Act, H.R. 4305, will create a pilot program at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to help individuals with post-deployment mental health disorders by pairing them with dogs to train as service animals. The bill directs the VA to provide grants to nonprofit entities that teach veterans how to train service dogs. Once the program is completed, veterans can, if they wish, adopt their dogs for ongoing therapy.

The measure passed the House by a voice vote. The issue has such strong bipartisan support, the bill arrived on the House floor with 324 cosponsors from both sides of the aisle.

There are few who would deny that we owe a special debt of gratitude to those men and women who have served in our nation’s armed forces, especially in combat. This is particularly true given our current understanding of the significant emotional challenges associated with conflict and its aftermath. An alarming number of veterans and current service members face an invisible and formidable enemy in Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and other mental health challenges.

The legislation relies upon some of the best available mental health interventions available. Working with service dogs has been shown to enhance mental health. Among other benefits, it helps participants focus attention and energy toward training the dog. Moreover, the positive emotions they experience when the dogs perform their tasks well can produce demonstrable social and psychological benefits, too.

Therapy centered on productive and satisfying employment has also been shown to successfully lower depression, anxiety, anger, sleep disturbances and alcohol and substance abuse, as well as enhance interpersonal relationships.

Once the service dogs are trained, they can be invaluable companions for veterans. They often alert their owners to PTSD triggers, such as crowded areas or unanticipated risks. They can also help to reduce their handlers’ anxiety by providing security and a calming effect. And any dog breed is fit to serve, including Labradors, golden retrievers, mixed breeds and animals rescued from shelters.

“Today’s passage of the PAWS for Veterans Therapy Act is an important first step in getting veterans access to life saving and life changing solutions,” said Rep. Steve Stivers, R-Ohio. “I’ve seen first-hand how these policies have prevented suicide, improved relationships, and given veterans their lives back. Now, we’ll send this bill to the Senate, and then to the President’s desk so that we can get those who have served the care they deserve.”

No society can afford to neglect the post-deployment well-being of its service members. Our thanks to Reps. Stivers, Kathleen Rice, D-N.Y., John Rutherford, R-Fla., Mikie Sherrill, D-N.J., Michael Walz, R-Fla., Gil Cisneros, D-Calif., Neal Dunn, R-Fla., and Elissa Slotkin, D-Mich., for recognizing the social, psychological and medical benefits that the human-animal bond provides to improve the health and well-being of veterans, and for their leadership in bringing this measure so far in such a short time. We now urge the Senate to swiftly act upon a companion bill, the K9s for Veterans Therapy Act, S. 2948, sponsored by Sens. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz. This well-crafted, urgently needed legislation is worthy of every American’s support.

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

Tuesday, February 04, 2020

State of the animals under the Trump administration: a year of highs and lows

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

This past year has been a mixed one for animals under President Donald Trump. On the one hand we’ve seen federal agencies take steps to improve the fortunes of animals used in testing and the wild horses and burros on our public ranges, and also to end breed discrimination of companion animals. On the other hand, we’ve also seen some shocking anti-animal actions, including a conspicuous decline in the enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act and the Horse Protection Act, a continued lack of transparency over recorded violations of these laws, and the dismantling of the Endangered Species Act, the bedrock U.S. law protecting imperiled species across the globe.

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Photo by Nathan Hobbs/iStock.com

Today, as President Trump prepares to deliver his third State of the Union address, here’s a brief look at how his administration dealt with issues of importance to us at the Humane Society of the United States and the Humane Society Legislative Fund.

Among the positive actions taken for animals:

  • The Environmental Protection Agency announced plans to end all tests on mammals, including dogs, mice, and rabbits, by 2035. The agency will devote $4.25 million to the development of non-animal testing technologies at five universities.
  • The Bureau of Land Management agreed in 2019 to return to a 2014 policy designed to prevent horses from being funneled to slaughter by allowing individuals and organizations to buy only four wild horses over a six-month period. In 2018, the Trump administration had moved to allow 25 horses to be purchased at a time, with no time limit between purchases, making the animals vulnerable to mass purchases by “kill buyers.”
  • The Department of Transportation issued a proposed rule prohibiting airlines from banning certain breeds of service dogs, such as pit bull-type dogs, and prohibiting exotic animals like capuchin monkeys from flying as service animals—a designation that could lead to health, safety and welfare risks.

Among the damaging actions taken by the administration over the past year:

Looking ahead, we urge the Trump administration to take the following actions in 2020:

  • Issue a final rule from the USDA to strengthen licensing and basic care requirements at puppy mills, roadside zoos and other facilities under the Animal Welfare Act.
  • Significantly increase the use of humane population growth suppression toolsby the Bureau of Land Management to manage wild horse and burro populations on public rangelands, and eliminate research into sterilization as a management technique.
  • Issue a proposed rule from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to mitigate the harm being caused to the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale, including measures to reduce deadly entanglements in vertical fishing lines.
  • Prioritize the relocation of chimpanzees owned and supported by the National Institutes of Health to the national sanctuary, Chimp Haven. NIH should also prioritize replacing animals in harmful research with approaches that represent the best available science and prevent the suffering of millions of animals in laboratories each year.
  • Improve enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act, the Horse Protection Act and federal animal fighting laws, cracking down on puppy millers, horse sorers and cockfighters, and reinstate the final HPA rule to end horse soring that was withdrawn at the beginning of the Trump administration. Following a mandate in the FY20 appropriations bill, the USDA must reinstate all AWA/HPA inspection and enforcement records it took down in 2017 and resume posting them without redacting the identities of violators.
  • Continue to provide necessary protections for endangered and threatened species, including rejecting permit applications for trophies of species like rhinos, elephants and lions, and ensuring that egregious and inhumane hunting methods are not permitted on federal lands.

Animal protection ought not be a partisan issue. Even in a highly polarized Congress, we saw major progress for animals last year with the passage of the Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture Act and other milestones such as the House approving the Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act and the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act. Most Americans feel a deep compassion for animals and moving forward we urge President Trump to put the policies and resources of this administration squarely behind this very American value.

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

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Are horses about to be removed from European and Asian dinner plates? U.S. House has first hearing in over a decade on ending horse slaughter

The killing of American horses for food has forever been unpalatable to the vast majority of citizens of the United States, and that’s one of the reasons that Humane Society Legislative Fund and the Humane Society of the United States have made the fight to halt this practice a priority over the last decade. Horse slaughter is more than just offensive to our collective sensibilities, however. It’s a cruel betrayal of horses, one that produces terrible suffering and misery for them, and it’s the subject of an important legislative debate unfolding in the U.S. Congress this session.

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iStock Photo

Today, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health held a hearing on the Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act, H.R. 961, to permanently ban domestic horse slaughter in the United States as well as the transport of horses abroad for slaughter, along with a number of other bills focused on safety and transparency in the production and use of food and drugs in the United States.

Each year tens of thousands of American horses are hauled to Canada or Mexico, where they are butchered for their meat that’s then shipped overseas. The suffering begins the moment these horses enter the slaughter pipeline. After being acquired by kill buyers, who often misrepresent their intentions bidding against horse rescuers at auctions, they are loaded into cramped livestock trailers with other horses and spend many hours without food and water. These frightened animals often panic and fight in close quarters, injuring themselves and each other in transport and sometimes dying en route. And at the slaughter plant, horses rarely experience quick, painless deaths.

In addition to our humanitarian objections, we have long maintained that horse meat is unsafe for human consumption. Unlike animals raised for food, the vast majority of horses sent to slaughter will have ingested, or been treated or injected with, multiple chemical substances known to be dangerous to humans, untested on humans, or specifically prohibited for use in domestic animals destined for the human food supply.

For too long, horse slaughter has provided a quick fix outlet for individuals and industries seeking to discard healthy, sound horses deemed to no longer have value. But we can’t let horse owners, breeders, trainers, and other stakeholders off so easy. They have—we all have—a deep responsibility to horses, and these magnificent animals deserve much better. 

In an era of divisive politics and culture wars, there is something oddly reassuring about the horse slaughter issue precisely because so many different stakeholders agree with the central premise here. Horses do deserve better, and our view is shared by the Homes for Horses Coalition, The Jockey Club, the National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA), the ASPCA, the Animal Welfare Institute, Return to Freedom, the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association (HSVMA), and many other organizations. 

Not only do all our organizations support the SAFE Act, introduced by Reps. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) and Vern Buchanan (R-Fl.), but this legislation also has the cosponsorship of over half the House of Representatives at present, and growing support in the Senate, where  it has been introduced by Sens. Menendez (D-N.J.) and Graham (R-S.C.). When this lifesaving measure passes, as it surely will one day, it’ll be because of that broad, bipartisan base that stands behind it. But it’ll also be because of the stalwart backing that you and other supporters of our work have demonstrated for the fundamental principles of kindness, compassion and decency, timeless values that are the heart of our humane enterprise.

Please take a moment to contact your federal legislators and urge them to cosponsor the SAFE Act if they haven’t yet, and do all they can to get it passed!

Breaking news: Key House committee votes to reverse Trump administration’s harmful changes to Endangered Species Act

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

Last year, the Trump administration finalized regulations that gutted the Endangered Species Act, making it harder to grant and maintain federal protections for species that are fighting for survival. Today, the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee voted to reverse those dangerous changes by approving the Protect America’s Wildlife and Fish in Need of Conservation Act (the PAW and FIN Conservation Act), H.R. 4348.

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Photo courtesy of iStock.com

The measure would nullify regulations that strip threatened species of vital safeguards, create hurdles to list species threatened by climate change, weaken protection of critical habitat, and make it easier for federal agencies to ignore the impact of government actions on listed species, including African lions, grizzly bears and elephants. The regulations, finalized last August, also directed regulators to assess economic impacts when making decisions about whether species should be listed, tipping the scales against animals who happen to live in areas targeted by business operations like mining, oil drilling or development.

These are unacceptable changes, especially at a time when animals across the globe face great challenges to their survival due to poaching, habitat loss, the climate crisis and trophy hunting. The ESA has saved more than 99 percent of listed species from going extinct, and now is the time to enhance, not dismantle, it. Soon after they were announced, the rules were challenged in court by the attorneys general of 17 states and by a slew of environmental and animal protection organizations, including the HSUS. We are pleased to see Congress move decisively to throw these dangerous rules out.

The committee also marked up several other important pieces of wildlife conservation legislation today, including bills concerning the establishment of wildlife corridors to address disjointed habitats and the development of integrated national climate change resiliency strategies. These bills include:

The Wildlife Corridors Conservation Act, H.R. 2795, to establish a National Wildlife Corridors Program for federal public lands as well as authorize funding for states, tribes and other entities to pursue comprehensive corridor network projects on non-federal lands to boost biodiversity, protect ecosystems, and help safeguard iconic species like the Florida panther and bighorn sheep.

The Tribal Wildlife Corridors Act, H.R. 5179, to support efforts by Native American tribes to establish a Tribal Wildlife Corridors System on tribal lands.

The Safeguarding America’s Future and Environment (SAFE) Act, H.R. 2748, to require federal agencies to work together and in conjunction with state, tribal and local governments to identify and prioritize specific conservation and management strategies responsive to the challenges of extreme weather and climate change.

Committee members also marked up a bill to establish the Western Riverside County National Wildlife Refuge in California that would provide habitat for 146 species of plants and animals.

We are grateful to House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz. for moving these five bills forward, and to all of the members who voted in favor of them. We look forward to all of them moving soon to debate and vote on the full House floor.

A United Nations report last year warned that one million plant and animal species are on the verge of extinction, with alarming implications for human survival. By passing these bills, we can ensure that our nation is doing its part to help conserve global and American wildlife. But before they go to the House floor for a vote, we need to ensure that all five have a high cosponsor count. Please contact your Representative in Congress today and urge them to cosponsor these important bills.

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

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