By Kitty Block and Sara Amundson
Update: We are delighted to report that the U.S. House passed the Big Cat Public Safety Act, H.R. 263, by a strong bipartisan vote of 278 to 134. Thank you for helping us achieve this win by advocating for the bill to your Representative.
Now it’s the U.S. Senate’s turn to act. Please help us keep the momentum going by contacting your two Senators right now and urging them to support the Big Cat Public Safety Act, S. 1210!
We have a real chance to end cruelties to big cats in the U.S. by securing passage of the Big Cat Public Safety Act, H.R. 263, which would prohibit keeping big cats as pets and also ban direct physical contact between big cats and the public. Introduced by Reps. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), the Big Cat Public Safety Act is set for a vote in the House next week.
The breeding and keeping of tigers, lions, leopards and other big cat species as pets or for cub petting operations creates a terrible string of never-ending misery for the animals involved. Breeders and exhibitors in the petting industry take cubs away from their mothers at birth, denying them the maternal care and social bonding necessary for healthy development. They mistreat the cubs to control them, fail to provide proper care, and charge visitors for the chance to hold and be photographed with them. The babies are handled by one customer after another, day in and day out, until they quickly grow too large and are then sold or bartered to roadside zoos, magic shows or individuals who keep them as pets. The dismal cycle continues as repetitive breeding ensures that a new generation of infants, and another and another, in perpetuity, will suffer the same sad fate.
It’s quite rare for an animal protection bill to come up for a full vote in Congress, but this is the second time around for the Big Cat Public Safety Act, which passed the House in the last Congress with nearly two-thirds of members supporting it. Unfortunately, the session ended before it could be taken up by the Senate. Things are different now, though, and with a few months left in the 117th Congress, we have more time to advocate for this bill to also clear the Senate hurdle.
We are in this strong position because of the intense media attention and immense public concern for exotic cats that resulted from Tiger King. The Big Cat Public Safety Act has substantial bipartisan support and the co-sponsorship of 259 members—more than half of the House—who have heard from countless constituents shocked by the cruelty of the cub petting industry and pressing them to take action to stop it.
As for the disreputable cast of characters from the Tiger King series, together they represent Exhibit A for why we need a swift end to the industry. Joe Exotic is in jail. Jeff Lowe’s USDA license was suspended, Tim Stark’s was revoked, and Kevin “Doc” Antle was recently indicted on animal cruelty and wildlife trafficking charges as well as federal money laundering crimes.
All that said, as long as cub petting remains legal, nothing will prevent the next generation of profiteering con artists from incessantly breeding, exploiting and casting vulnerable big cats to an uncertain fate.
We know something about such fates because of Elsa, Loki and India, three big cats who now live happily at our animal sanctuary, Black Beauty Ranch. It is likely that 6-month-old Elsa, found crying outside in a snowstorm, Loki, discovered in a tiny, filthy cage in the garage of an abandoned home and 9-month-old India, confiscated after strolling through a residential neighborhood, began life as cubs in the cruel cub petting business. They’re safe now, but the question poses itself: How do we prevent other big cats from suffering the same sort of misfortune?
The answer is clear. We must prohibit the practices that sustain the trade, and we must do so right away, through passage of the Big Cat Public Safety Act. The case is strong. The bill is endorsed by law enforcement agencies, zoos and animal sanctuaries, and the support in Congress is there. At our recent Taking Action for Animals conference, this issue was front and center, and the Big Cat Public Safety Act was one of the bills that TAFA Lobby Day participants advocated for in meetings with their U.S. legislators. It’s always the right time to take action to stop a gross form of cruelty. Next week’s vote presents the best opportunity we’ve ever had to stop this one.
You can play a part in making history for captive big cats in the U.S. Contact your representative to ask them to be present on the House floor and vote “Yes” on H.R. 263, the Big Cat Public Safety Act.
Sara Amundson is president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund.