By Kitty Block and Sara Amundson
The U.S. House has just voted overwhelmingly to crack down on some of the worst and most malicious acts of animal cruelty, including crushing, burning, drowning, suffocating and impaling live animals and sexually exploiting them. The watershed vote takes us one step closer to a federal anti-cruelty statute that would allow the FBI and other federal law enforcement agencies to arrest and prosecute those who commit such unspeakable crimes against innocent animals.
The vote is especially heartening because while the PACT Act has been introduced in previous Congresses — and it has unanimously passed the Senate twice — the former House Judiciary Committee chair had refused to move the bill despite the wide support it enjoyed among members. Now, with new leadership in the House pushing the bill to victory, we are hopeful that the Senate will soon act again on a companion version, and push this legislation over the finish line.
The PACT Act builds on the federal animal crush video law that was enacted in 2010 at the urging of the Humane Society of the United States and the Humane Society Legislative Fund. This law banned 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. But the law has a gap that needs to be addressed: federal prosecutors have no recourse to hold perpetrators accountable unless an obscene video has been produced.
The PACT Act will remove that loophole by prohibiting these acts when they occur on federal property, such as federal prisons and national parks, regardless of whether a video has been produced. It would also allow federal authorities to crack down on animal cruelty that affects interstate or foreign commerce, including moving animals across state lines or information exchanged on websites that allows animal exploitation such as bestiality to occur.
This bill is supported by the National Sheriffs’ Association, the Fraternal Order of Police, the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, the National Children’s Advocacy Center, and Domestic Violence Intervention Services, Inc., and more than 100 law enforcement agencies across the country. In July, we hosted an event on Capitol Hill where we were joined by the bill’s sponsors, several rescue dogs and an extraordinary high school student from Potomac, Maryland, named Sydney Helfand, who started a petition at Change.org to pass the PACT Act. Her petition gathered more than 650,000 signatures, illustrating the wide support this issue enjoys among members of the public, including young people, and the momentum behind passing this bill.
We congratulate Reps. Ted Deutch, D-Fla., and Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., who sponsored the PACT Act in the House, and the bill’s 297 cosponsors, for their vision and persistence in seeing this important bill through. In coming weeks, we will be pushing with our collective might for the passage of the identical Senate companion bill, which was introduced by Sens. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and already has the bipartisan support of 38 Senators.
We know by now that animal cruelty is an indicator of social pathology and those who commit crimes against humans often start out by hurting animals. It is a pattern of violence that is both common and well-documented, and it adds to the urgency of passing this commonsense law. Let’s make this the year we pass the PACT Act, so those who commit the worst crimes against animals do not go scot-free.
Sara Amundson is president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund.