By Kitty Block and Sara Amundson
We are on Capitol Hill today for the swearing in of the 116th Congress, along with Humane Society of the United States and Humane Society Legislative Fund colleagues. We’re meeting with members of Congress, old and new, and gearing up for a new session of pushing for the passage of federal legislation to protect animals.
Toward the end of the 115th Congress in 2018, we achieved a great deal, including the passage of the Farm Bill without the harmful King amendment and with three pro-animal measures. Our priorities this year cover a wide range of issues, including banning the private possession of big cats, the prevention of basic animal cruelty, an end to the shark fin trade in the United States, a full ban on the cruel practice of horse soring, a prohibition on the slaughter of horses for human consumption and the elimination of animal testing for cosmetics.
While some fear a gridlock this year because of a divided Congress, we do not. People on both sides of the political aisle care about helping animals, and we are extremely hopeful about getting a great deal accomplished for animals this year, just as we did in past years.
Here are some key measures we’ll be working on:
THE PREVENTING ANIMAL CRUELTY AND TORTURE (PACT) ACT:
All 50 states have felony penalties for malicious cruelty to animals, and federal law bans 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. PACT would strengthen that law by prohibiting extreme animal cruelty when it occurs in interstate or foreign commerce, regardless of whether a video is produced. It would complement state cruelty laws and provide an additional enforcement tool against extreme cruelty on federal property or in commerce. In the 115th Congress, PACT passed the Senate by unanimous consent and the House bill had 284 cosponsors.
THE BIG CAT PUBLIC SAFETY ACT:
Tigers, lions and other big cats are kept in private possession all across the country in people’s backyards, basements and at unaccredited roadside zoos. There is no uniform regulation regarding the keeping of big cats and the issue has been largely left to state governments to regulate. Just this past weekend, a young woman was attacked and killed by a lion at a privately run wild animal menagerie in North Carolina. This bill would create a national framework for the keeping of dangerous wild animals in private possession, and prohibit public contact with certain species. It would also end future ownership of big cats by unqualified individuals and contain exemptions for individuals meeting specific requirements.
THE SHARK FIN SALES ELIMINATION ACT / SHARK FIN TRADE ELIMINATION ACT:
The global demand for shark fins is causing a worldwide decline in sharks; some populations have dropped by as much as 90 percent. Congress can help stem this crisis by prohibiting the import, export, possession, trade and distribution of shark fins and products containing shark fins. Such action would strengthen the existing U.S. ban on shark finning—the cruel and wasteful practice of cutting the fins off a live shark, then discarding the mutilated animal to drown, bleed to death, or be eaten alive by other animals. It would also take our nation out of the destructive transnational shark fin trade, and reinforce U.S. leadership in global shark conservation.
THE PREVENT ALL SORING TACTICS (PAST) ACT:
Congress passed the Horse Protection Act almost 50 years ago to rein in the cruel practice of “soring,” in which unscrupulous trainers deliberately inflict pain on the hooves and legs of Tennessee Walking Horses and related breeds. These trainers use caustic chemicals, chains, weights, sharp objects, cutting, and other gruesome techniques to produce an artificially high-stepping gait and gain unfair competitive advantage at horse shows. But rampant soring continues, as shown in a 2010 audit by the USDA Inspector General and by HSUS undercover investigations in 2011 and 2015. PAST would end the failed system of industry self-policing, ban the use of devices associated with soring, and strengthen penalties.
THE PUPPY PROTECTION ACT and WELFARE OF OUR FRIENDS (WOOF) ACT:
Most Americans consider pets family members, but under current federal standards, breeding dogs can spend their entire lives in small, cramped wire cages without ever touching the ground or having enough space to run and play. In addition, there are deficiencies in Animal Welfare Act enforcement of commercial breeding facilities, and the USDA often renews facilities’ licenses year after year despite severe and multiple violations. The Puppy Protection Act would improve weak and outdated standards of care and the WOOF Act would prohibit the issuance or renewal of a license to breeders whose previous licenses have been revoked or suspended, or to their immediate family members at the same address.
THE HUMANE COSMETICS ACT:
More than 1.7 billion consumers live in countries that have banned the manufacture and sale of cosmetics tested on animals, including European Union nations and India. These tests are not predictive of the human experience, are painful to animals, and are unnecessary – there are many alternative methods to ensure that products are safe for human use. Congress can help the United States remain a leader in the cosmetics industry by prohibiting the manufacture or sale of cosmetics tested on animals. The Humane Cosmetics Act would create a key incentive for cosmetics to be tested with cutting-edge technologies that are more humane, faster to perform and less costly to industry.
BANNING HORSE SLAUGHTER:
Horses have long been an integral part of American history, as loyal companions and comrades in battle, yet every year thousands are slaughtered for human consumption. Horses are shipped for long distances without food, water or rest in crowded trucks in which the animals are often seriously injured or killed in transit. At slaughter plants, the methods used rarely result in quick, painless deaths. Congress should keep horse slaughter plants shuttered in the United States by prohibiting the slaughter of horses here and end the export of horses for slaughter.
THE ANIMAL EMERGENCY PLANNING ACT:
Given the increasing frequency and intensity of weather-related emergencies, preparing for disaster includes having a plan in place to safely evacuate animals from affected areas. This bill would require that entities regulated under the Animal Welfare Act (such as commercial animal dealers, exhibitors, research facilities and animal carriers) have contingency plans in place to safely evacuate and care for animals in an emergency or disaster situation.
We’re proud of the difference that our organizations make, but the truth is that none of this can be done without your support. When you respond to our calls to action, when you take steps to engage others, and when you make calls to or email your members of Congress to support animal protection issues, you make a real difference for animals. In the New Year, we look forward to your continued support, and we look forward to working with you.
Sara Amundson is president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund