In 2017, there were some mean-spirited, aggressive attacks on animal welfare that stirred the conscience and passions of tens of millions of Americans – particularly the readers of A Humane Nation. These maneuvers made so many of us question the wisdom and judgment of some elected officials at the federal level. In one of the most stomach-churning of the attacks, Alaska’s Congressional delegation invoked the Congressional Review Act to nullify Interior Department rules to stop ruthless predator control actions on our federal lands (national wildlife refuges and national preserves) in the state. After the House and Senate narrowly approved the measure (on a party-line vote in the Senate, and with just 10 Republicans in the House objecting), President Trump signed the measure to repeal the wildlife protection rule for national refuges in Alaska. On the other hand, the president’s positive intervention on the issue of rich Americans killing elephants and lions from Zimbabwe and Zambia and bringing their tusks, heads, and other body parts into the United States caused the opposite reaction, especially after The HSUS called out this maneuver by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to abet trophy killing of rare species, right here on this blog.
So many other consequential issues also provoked fierce reactions and in some cases recriminations – including the Interior Department’s rescinding of a policy on the use of poisonous lead ammunition in our national wildlife refuges. You expressed joy and excitement about the agency’s announcement of a rule to stop abuses of Tennessee walking horses – but sadly the new administration stopped the horse reform in its tracks (we’re now seeking to get this reform done through Congress). You responded in extraordinary numbers in celebrating other outcomes, including Gucci and Michael Kors going fur-free, Mexico adopting felony-level penalties for dogfighting, and The HSUS’s rescue of 84 Great Danes languishing in deplorable conditions in a New Hampshire mansion. You liked my blog about the devastating exposé of puppy mills by Rolling Stone reporter Paul Solotaroff, but were furious about the USDA just weeks later starting to suppress inspection reports of mills, research labs, and roadside zoos.
It was a year of high drama for animals chronicled in A Humane Nation, and I am glad so many of you liked, shared, commented, and otherwise acted once you learned about the biggest issues of our day for animals.
In February, at the bidding of the NRA, the Safari Club, and some hunting guides and outfitters, the U.S. House voted in favor of H.J. Resolution 69 to overturn a federal rule, years in the works and crafted by professional wildlife managers at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, to stop some of the most appalling practices ever imagined in the contemporary era of wildlife management. The resolution, authored by Alaska’s Rep. Don Young, sought to allow killing wolf pups in or near their dens in spring, killing hibernating bears, spotting grizzly bears from aircraft and then shooting them after landing, and trapping grizzly bears and black bears with steel-jawed leghold traps and snares on 16 national wildlife refuges covering 76 million acres, all in the state of Alaska. In March, the Senate followed up with a party-line vote to rescind the rule, and President Trump signed the resolution, eliminating the rule in April.
In November, in yet another action kowtowing to Safari Club International and its band of wealthy trophy hunters, the Department of Interior reversed critical elephant and lion protections established during the previous administration, allowing imports of elephant and lion trophies from Zimbabwe and Zambia. Listed under the federal Endangered Species Act, hunting trophies of elephants and lions can only be imported if the federal government finds that killing them positively enhances the survival of the species. This was an especially reckless decision, given that it came to light on the very day of an attempted coup to remove Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s ruthless and corrupt dictator, who had been operating the country’s wildlife management program as something of a live auction. Fortunately, just days later and in response to the furor The HSUS propelled through social media and other channels, President Trump announced in a tweet that he was putting the Interior Department’s decision on hold. In another tweet, he declared trophy hunting of elephants and other animals “a horror show.”
Pushed to act by a series of HSUS undercover investigations and bipartisan support from the U.S. Congress and public comments by more than 100,000 groups and citizens, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in the last week of the Obama administration in January 2017, announced strict new rules to crack down on the barbaric practice of horse soring — the intentional infliction of pain on the legs and hooves of show Tennessee walking horses and related breeds, to force them to perform the artificial, pain-based “Big Lick” gait. As requested in a rulemaking petition submitted by The HSUS, the USDA rule, years in the making, banned the use of pain-inflicting stacks and chains on Tennessee walking horses and racking horses, both breeds that have been chronic victims of soring. The rule also eliminated the failed industry self-policing program, and put the USDA squarely in charge of enforcing the rules to eliminate these abuses. But the Federal Register, the journal of the U.S. agencies, failed to publish the rule in a timely manner after the USDA announced it, and as a result, the rule got swept up in a broader Trump administration policy to freeze any rulemaking actions still in progress, after the new president assumed office on January 20th. The USDA has so far ignored our pleas to revive the rule over the last 10 months.
In July, the Appropriations Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives voted narrowly to give the green light for the reopening of horse slaughter plants in the United States. There were 27 members of Congress who voted against the bipartisan amendment offered by Reps. Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Calif., and Charlie Dent, R-Pa., to bar horse slaughter operations in the United States, and 25 who supported it. The vote on the amendment was unimaginable because American horses deserve a better fate than to be gathered up by a disreputable “kill buyer” who outbids a rescuer at an auction, loaded onto an overcrowded truck, and then stunned, hoisted up by a leg, and pulled apart piece by piece – which is exactly what the 27 lawmakers who voted against the Roybal-Allard/Dent amendment were trying to sanction. Fortunately, a week later, the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee – whose members constitute nearly a third of the entire chamber – voted in favor of an amendment to bar any horse slaughter plants from opening in this country. The issue will be settled in January when Congress works to finish up the spending bill to operate the government for the bulk of 2018. There is no question that a solid majority of the House, along with the Senate, oppose horse slaughter for human consumption, so we are urging negotiators on the final spending bill to keep that in the forefront of their thinking.
In February, The HSUS sent a notice of violation to the U.S. Department of Agriculture over its decision to delete from its website annual reports from research facilities and inspection reports on some 9,000 licensed facilities that use animals, including commercial dog breeding operators, Tennessee walking horse show participants, roadside zoos, animal research labs, and other operations regulated under the federal Animal Welfare Act and Horse Protection Act. The HSUS sued the USDA in 2005 over public access to AWA reports concerning animal use in university and other laboratories. That case was settled in 2009 in exchange for the USDA’s agreement to post certain data on its website concerning research on animals. The USDA’s outrageous action in February undermined longstanding consensus about public access to information concerning these laws, and frustrated state, local, and industry efforts to help enforce them. Weeks later, bowing to a massive national campaign demanding restoration of the records, the agency said it would repost some annual reports and inspection data on animal research facilities. But so far, the agency has continued its near-total eclipse of horse soring, roadside zoo, and puppy mill reports, redacting them so they are virtually useless.
In April, Mexico’s Senate put the final stamp of approval on a comprehensive law that bans all dogfighting in the country and establishes tough penalties, including imprisonment and fines, for anyone involved in dogfighting activities like organizing fights, owning or trading a dog, and attending a fight as a spectator. Dogfighting has been a persistent and widespread animal welfare problem in Mexico. In 2016, soon after opening an office in Mexico, and under the guidance of executive director Anton Aguilar of Humane Society International/Mexico, we launched a major anti-dogfighting campaign along with local animal protection organizations. The Mexican law will have a beneficial impact on our work to stop dogfighters here, in the United States, where we have established a strong federal policy on animal fighting over the last 15 years. For years, American-based dogfighters have trekked to Mexico to avoid law enforcement in the United States where, largely due to The HSUS’s work, dogfighting is a felony in every state, and also a federal felony.
Earlier this month, a New Hampshire court convicted a New Hampshire Great Dane breeder, Christina Fay, of 10 counts of animal cruelty. Fay kept 84 Great Danes in deplorable conditions in a mansion in Wolfeboro, N.H. When our rescuers, working with the Wolfeboro police department, arrived at the mansion in June to remove the animals, they found the dogs in obvious distress and varying states of illness. The judge who handed down the convictions for Fay noted that a veterinarian experienced in investigating animal cruelty cases testified that “the conditions within the Defendant’s home [were] the worst she had ever seen.” Fay was sentenced and ordered to pay more than $790,000 in restitution to The HSUS and other groups. In addition to caring for the dogs since they were rescued, The HSUS has been working with state lawmakers and Gov. Chris Sununu on passing state legislation to reform commercial breeder regulations, strengthen penalties for egregious cruelty, and address the enormous financial burden on taxpayers and non-profit organizations in caring for animals legally seized from cruelty investigations. My June blog announcing the rescue also was among the most read blogs of the year.
In early January, Paul Solotaroff took a deep dive into the puppy mill business with a remarkable feature in Rolling Stone magazine entitled “The Dog Factory: Inside the Sickening World of Puppy Mills.” Solotaroff piggybacked on a raid that the HSUS Animal Rescue Team carried out with the Cabarrus County Sheriff’s Office in North Carolina, seeing first-hand what our rescuers encounter when they carry out these rescues. “It was pitch-black inside, and the smell was a hammer,” wrote Solotaroff, in describing the house where the dogs were confined. “Here were the parent dogs in desperate shape: blinded by cataracts and corneal ulcers, their jaws half-gone or missing entirely after their teeth had rotted away. Some were so feeble, they couldn’t stand erect; their paws were urine-scalded and their wrists were deformed from squatting on wire their entire lives.” Solotaroff saw our rescue team carry 105 dogs to safety from filthy, dark wire cages surrounded by cobwebs and trash. Solotaroff also visited a dog auction in Missouri with my colleague, John Goodwin, and wrote not just about the plight of the dogs but also the financial burden placed on law enforcement and animal welfare groups that get saddled with the costs of caring for the animals. The article covered the deficiencies at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the very rare circumstances when the agency shuts down a mill. Compounding that problem, weeks later, the USDA took down all inspection records for this taxpayer-funded inspections program.
In October, the fashion house Gucci rocked the fashion world by announcing, in partnership with The HSUS, that it was going fur-free. It reverberated through the industry, and just weeks later, Michael Kors (including its Jimmy Choo brand) joined the fur-free movement by announcing that it is going 100 percent fur-free. In November, Burlington Stores (formerly Burlington Coat Factory), after discussions with The HSUS, announced it was going 100 percent fur-free. In June, Yoox Net-A-Porter, the online retailer for such brands as Prada and Burberry, announced it will stop selling all items and accessories made with fur. In short, it was perhaps the biggest year ever for the fur-free movement.
In January, as his first action as Interior Secretary, Ryan Zinke undid a director’s order to phase out the use of lead ammunition and fishing tackle over the next five years on more than 150 million acres of National Wildlife Refuges and other agency lands and waterways. The original policy, adopted as a Director’s Order by outgoing Fish and Wildlife Service director Dan Ashe, was designed to stop the needless, incidental poisoning of millions of wild animals each year by lead that’s left behind by hunters and anglers. As the primary wildlife manager of tens of millions of acres of federal lands, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has a statutory duty to act to protect and conserve wildlife, and that’s what it did by establishing the policy after careful deliberation last year. Less toxic forms of ammunition and fishing tackle are effective, cost-competitive, and readily available in the marketplace. Leaders of hunting groups huddled around Zinke for his first official action, cheering on an action inimical to the imperatives of conservation and wildlife enhancement.
To all of you who took action, shared my blog and supported our cause this year, thank you. We’ve faced many challenges – mainly at the hands of the federal government – but we will continue to do battle there and also fight on a hundred other fronts. It is our commitment to multi-channel change that is bringing about game-changing results for animals, and we are poised for more of those successes.
P.S. If you haven’t already subscribed to A Humane Nation, please do so here, to keep up with our work in the new year.