The organized animal protection movement has certainly paid attention to lobbying and lawmaking through the years, but the lion’s share of resources have been directed to direct animal care, such as rescue and sheltering. In the modern lobbying era—the last 25 years, where we’ve witnessed the rise of political action committees and organized grassroots political campaigns by interest groups—the animal protection movement has lagged behind other causes, such as labor, gun rights, and pro-choice or pro-life groups, in making investments in this domain.
When I came to The HSUS 13 years ago and started as vice president of communications and government affairs, I was bound and determined to change that equation. I felt that The HSUS and yet-to-be-formed or -acquired affiliates could become political and legislative powerhouses, and that we were failing the animals by not doing more in those spheres.
This year, we helped to pass 86 state laws for animals.
In the early 1990s, along with The Fund for Animals, The HSUS started doing ballot initiative campaigns, and since that time, we’ve won more than 20 statewide ballot measure campaigns, including measures to outlaw cockfighting, bear baiting and hounding, mourning dove shooting, canned hunts, the use of steel-jawed leghold traps and other body-gripping traps, and inhumane factory farming practices. These measures have demonstrated to friend and foe alike the political strength and appeal of animal protection issues.
In 1999, I co-founded, in my private capacity, an independent, non-affiliated political action committee, Humane USA, and it has become the first major political action committee with an animal-welfare focus to invest in candidate elections. In 2004, we saw the formation of the Humane Society Legislative Fund (HSLF), now under the direction of Michael Markarian and Sara Amundson. That group not only does lobbying, but also endorses candidates and conducts grassroots campaigns to help elect humane-minded candidates, and to oust lawmakers with a decided anti-animal bent. (Note: The HSUS is permitted to lobby within limits, but as a 501(c)(3) cannot engage in any candidate electioneering.)
Since these groups have focused on lobbying and political activities, we’ve seen a wave of positive lawmaking on behalf of animals. The combined power and influence of these affiliated entities in our state and national legislatures has been dramatic. This year, we helped to pass 86 new laws—shattering last year’s record of 68 laws. That’s 154 new laws for animals at the state level in just the last two years. And it’s a total of 470 new state laws in the last 7 years.
We’ve also focused tremendous energy on Congress. In the last decade, we’ve passed well more than 25 new federal statutes for animals. This year, we’ve seen some good progress for animals, even though Congress has been stalemated on so many other policy matters.
This year, we’ve helped to pass a major upgrade of the federal animal fighting law and a separate bill to bar the National Institutes of Health from re-claiming chimpanzees who had been sent to sanctuaries. The House also passed a resolution condemning Canada’s seal slaughter, which The HSUS has been working hard to stop.
© The HSUS
Rallying for horses on Capitol Hill.
But much other work in Congress occurs by amending larger bills, including must-pass spending bills. This year, it was the Food And Drug Administration reauthorization bill that was the vehicle for a provision to set some new standards for pet food products. This came in response to the pet food adulteration crisis that claimed the lives of an untold number of dogs and cats.
The House and Senate passed a provision, as an amendment to the Defense Authorization Act, to create a national War Dog Memorial.
Two weeks ago, I wrote about the Farm bill, and how four different animal protection provisions were attached to that measure, including amendments to strengthen the federal anti-dogfighting law, to ban Class B dealers, to bar the import of puppies from foreign puppy mills, and to slow down the rush toward cloning farm animals. In addition, we succeeded in jettisoning a $12 million subsidy for the veal industry and a separate provision that would have hurt our efforts to enact farm animal legislation in the states.
But the largest number of provisions was attached to the massive year-end spending bill, referred to as "the Omnibus"—a $555 billion dollar bill that funds most of the operations of government for 2008. Included in the bill were measures or report language:
- to limit any federal spending to inspect horses for slaughter for human consumption
- to promote the adoption of working horses used by federal agencies
- to prevent federal authorities from suggesting or implying that cats in federally subsidized housing must be declawed
- to instruct the U.S. Agency for International Development not to promote trophy hunting as a rural development of conservation strategy
- to encourage alternatives to animal testing
- to call upon the U.S. Department of Agriculture to study "Controlled Atmosphere Stunning" as an alternative to the inhumane killing method now used for poultry slaughter
The Senate passed a measure to ban the import of sport-hunted polar bear trophies from Canada, but the House rejected a similar provision, and the Senate language was omitted in the final omnibus legislation.
In short, The HSUS and its affiliates were working hard on all of these measures and others. Many other bills will be ripe for passage when the Congress resumes its work in late January. We’ll need your help every step of the way in writing and calling your lawmakers and in lobbying them in other ways, but we hope by the time the November 2008 elections roll around that we will have passed a raft of new animal protection legislation in the 110th Congress.