Our lifesaving raid on a puppy mill in Madison County, Arkansas, last week – where our team, working with law enforcement, rescued 295 dogs who were covered in filth and feces and denied access to clean water or any kind of medical care – got me to thinking about the special and indispensable role that The HSUS plays in animal protection.
We learned about this crisis through our puppy mill tip line, and we worked with the local sheriff, whose office in this rural county lacked the resources to handle 295 dogs. Few have such capacity and local humane organizations are often too overburdened to handle a human-caused animal emergency of this scale. That’s where we come in.
Leading a diverse coalition of staff, highly trained local humane experts, and RedRover volunteers, we set up an emergency shelter at the Humane Society of Saline County, provided much needed emergency medical care, and worked with our shelter partners to place the dogs in homes. It was a seamless operation, and animals who were knocking on death’s door just a few days ago are now beginning a much more hopeful chapter of their lives.
Ironically, just a week before that raid, representatives in the neighboring state of Oklahoma passed a bill, introduced by Representative Brian Renegar, to prevent any “animal rights charitable organization” from fundraising in Oklahoma for out-of-state operations, if the organization isn’t constituted “primarily for companion animals” or if the group conducts any lobbying activities to help animals
Setting aside the matter that this bill is obviously unconstitutional, let’s consider a few facts and ironies.
Without the ability to raise funds in Oklahoma (and other states should they try to replicate this legislative maneuver), we would not have the resources to come in and provide this kind of help for companion animals in crisis – in Oklahoma or just over the border in Arkansas or in Kansas or Texas. Animal cruelty has no boundaries, and when animals are in trouble, it’s vital that there’s someone to answer the call.
Had there been no tip line, there would have been no obvious pathway to learn about the dire conditions that the animals were living in. Had there been no local group that we had supplied with rescue equipment and expertise and animal care staff, there would have been no rescue. More animals would have died, and the puppy mill operator would have simply continued to bring more animals into this hell, churning through them as if they were unfeeling commodities.
Why would Oklahoma lawmakers try to prevent an intervention stopping this kind of cruelty? Why would they try to prevent a collaboration between animal rescue groups and local law enforcement, and the arrest of a person causing so much harm to animals just over the Oklahoma line, in neighboring Arkansas? Are beleaguered and dying animals just across the border in Arkansas any less deserving of rescue and help than animals in Oklahoma are (where these same lawmakers are blocking reforms to crack down on puppy mills in their state and passing legislation to block us from lobbying for such measures)?
These are rhetorical questions because we know the answers.
We know that the lawmakers behind this effort get their talking points from the Farm Bureau and other agribusiness interests, and that their demonstrably unconstitutional bill (with a version now introduced in neighboring Missouri) is a frustrated, hyperventilating response to the feeling of helplessness among certain animal-use groups faced with our reform efforts. These players don’t like our lifesaving and game-changing work against puppy mills or cockfighting. And they certainly don’t like our work for farm animals – determined efforts that have resulted in 75 of the biggest food retail brands in the United States pledging to phase out their purchase of pork and eggs from operations that confine animals so severely that they cannot even turn around.
Feeling like this change is unwarranted, these interests lash out and try to disable all of our work – whether it is to help horses, wildlife, farm animals, or companion animals.
We have free-speech rights to speak our mind and to solicit the support of Oklahomans or the people of any other state. Oklahomans and other citizens have their own free-speech rights to give to the charities of their choice.
But the question remains for these lawmakers. Would these people have been happy to see these dogs just over the border in Arkansas languish and die? I assure you, no one else was lining up to help them. There are countless cases of cruelty and neglect. We get to some good number of them with our tireless efforts, but if The HSUS didn’t have enough resources to get to this one, it’s very likely no one else would have.
I ask you, Representative Brian Renegar, would that outcome have pleased you?