May 2014 Blog Home July 2014

19 posts from June 2014

June 30, 2014

Live Pigeon Shoots: The Shame of Pennsylvania

More than two decades ago, when I first became active in animal protection, I went to protest what was then the nation’s largest pigeon shoot — in Hegins, Pennsylvania. The organizers trapped thousands of live pigeons from cities and other areas where the birds lived and then trucked them back to Hegins for the Fred Coleman Memorial Shoot, a Labor Day affair that had gone on unchallenged since the 1930s.

At a typical Pennsylvania pigeon shoot, organizers release trapped pigeons from boxes and shooters waiting just yards away maim and kill the birds as a target shooting exercise.
Photo: The HSUS

During the day, all day long, the organizers released the pigeons from boxes just yards away from a line of waiting shooters, who maimed and killed the birds as a target shooting exercise. Little boys dashed into the fields to twist off the heads of the wounded, flailing birds, compounding the cruelty with a clean-up process that just had to deaden the empathy of kids conscripted to participate in this perverted adult spectacle.

After some years, a state court ruled that humane society police officers could enforce the anti-cruelty laws of the state and that such laws did apply to pigeon shoots. That spelled the end of the Hegins shoot, but, amazingly, other live pigeon shoots persist, in more clandestine circumstances, in other parts of Pennsylvania, hiding in the shadows and obscured from public protests or scrutiny. Last week, the Senate Judiciary Committee considered a bill to ban the slaughter of dogs and cats for human consumption, and added to it the target shooting of dogs and cats and live pigeon shoots.  They passed the bill, H.B. 1750, by a vote of 10 – 4.

Now the National Rifle Association is attempting to use its lobbying muscle to prevent the consideration of this bill on the Senate floor, threatening lawmakers with retribution, should they support H.B. 1750.

Can you imagine that there is still controversy anywhere about whether it’s right to ban these spectacles of cruelty? A spectacle that causes obvious pain and suffering to animals. A spectacle that cannot be called hunting because there is no licensing, hunting season, no bag limits, and no consumption of the animals shot. An activity that has superior substitutes such as clay, skeet or trap shooting, involving the use of inanimate objects – with many of these forms of target shooting recognized as an Olympic sport.  A spectacle that has long fallen out of favor throughout the world.

Witnessing the cruelty of pigeon shoots changed the life of The HSUS’s current senior vice president of campaigns, Heidi Prescott. At the time, she was a volunteer and a wildlife rehabilitator. At her first shoot, it didn’t take her long to come across a wounded bird who had been suffering for hours and was gasping for breath. The bird’s injuries were so severe that she helped to humanely euthanize the animal. She says that after this experience, she made a pledge to campaign against pigeon shoots until they were ended for good. She’s been fighting for 20 years for the enactment of this policy, and she’s been joined by a strong group of responsible lawmakers, including State Representative John Maher, and State Senators Stewart Greenleaf, Dominic Pileggi, Pat Browne, and Richard Alloway, who are similarly committed to ending this cruelty.

Now, other state lawmakers must join them and demonstrate resolve, in the face of hollow threats from the NRA.  No lawmakers have ever looked back, despite opposition at the time, and wondered whether they should have voted to outlaw dogfighting, or cockfighting, or malicious cruelty to animals. And the rest of us only look back and wonder why those legal protections for animals took so long.

Live pigeon shooting is a cruel and frivolous form of fleeting entertainment, with no larger social purpose or benefit. It is not hunting – it is a disgrace, and lawmakers who fail to stand tall on issues with this kind of moral clarity should feel only shame and embarrassment.

June 27, 2014

Declining Populations of Elephants and Polar Bears in Sights of Trophy Hunters

Yesterday, CNN published a column from me about the confusing message sent by the U.S.  government in taking action to fight the elephant ivory trade but still allowing trophy hunters to bring in ivory tusks from a number of African countries. 

The good news is, two African nations – Botswana and Zambia – have recently banned trophy hunting, stopping Americans and hunters of other nationalities from killing animal species that are already in peril as a consequence of a surge in poaching for the ivory trade. What’s more, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has banned imports, at least temporarily, of trophy tusks from Tanzania and Zimbabwe. These are all very positive moves. We hope the United States does not backtrack on these actions, and instead continues to restrict all trade in ivory, including imports by trophy hunters.

The Sportsmen's Act would allow American trophy hunters to import the heads and hides of polar bears they’ve previously shot in Canada. Photo: iStockphoto

The United States is also in the thick of an urgent fight over the trophy hunting of polar bears – a species even more scarce than African or Asian elephants.  A federal bill known as the Sportsmen’s Act, S. 2363, is set to come up in the full Senate soon after the July 4th recess. This bill is chock full of horrible provisions, including one that would allow American trophy hunters to import the heads and hides of polar bears they’ve previously shot in Canada, even though polar bears are considered threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The bill would also prevent the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from regulating the use of lead ammunition by sport hunters, and it would establish sport hunting as a priority use of federal lands. 

The fact is, trophy hunters are still creating havoc with threatened species, fighting the overdue and logical transition to non-toxic ammunition, and seeking advantages over all other recreationists on our public lands.  They’ve just gone too far, and it’s time for animal advocates to speak up. We urge you to call your two U.S. Senators and express opposition to S. 2363, the Sportsmen’s Act.

June 26, 2014

Rescue, Rehab and Release

The animal care team at our affiliated Fund for Animals Wildlife Center in Ramona, California, last year took in a red-tailed hawk who’d been found at a trolley station. Her wing was heavily damaged, after coming out on the losing end of a collision with a mechanized vehicle or an overhead power line. Trolley Girl, as she came to be known, had surgery on her wing and burned feathers removed. She lost a lot of muscle strength, but over time and with proper care she was declared fit for flight exercises in March and expect that she is now counting down the days until released into the wild.

Trolley Girl is just one of about 15,000 creatures every year who come, broken, into our wildlife rehabilitation centers where our staff and volunteers work tirelessly to mend their wounds and broken bodies and to give them a second chance at life in the wild.

These orphaned red fox kits are being cared for at the Cape Wildlife Center in Barnstable, Massachusetts.
Photo: Heather Fone/The HSUS

It’s something that happens not only at our facilities, but at hundreds of other wildlife rehabilitation centers quietly but critically operating in communities throughout the nation.  That’s why I am so pleased that Representative Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and 11 cosponsors introduced a resolution today (H. Res. 651) in the U.S. House of Representatives to recognize the importance of wildlife rehabilitation and the dedicated individuals who devote their lives and expertise to it. 

Wildlife rehabilitation has probably been around as long as kids have been bringing orphaned baby animals home and asking moms and dads how to care for them. But over time, the needs in this sector have increased as wild animals face increasing peril from roads, power lines, glass windows, poisons, wind turbines and other human-made constructs and hazards.

The quality of the centers focusing on these concerns has risen to meet these demands and today we have increasingly sophisticated and specialized facilities staffed by specialists – veterinarians, administrators, husbandry experts and even nutritionists in some cases. These facilities have broadened the mission of rehabilitation and they often serve as early warning centers to monitor the health and status of our wildlife communities.

A red-footed tortoise enjoys a strawberry at the South Florida Wildlife Center in Fort Lauderdale.
Photo: Amber McPherson/The HSUS

The three wildlife rehabilitation centers operated by The HSUS and its affiliates, located in California, Florida, and Massachusetts, see animals ranging from baby birds and squirrels and opossums to bald eagles and mountain lions. Our experts not only help the animals but they also spend a lot of time working within their communities, and particularly with kids, teaching them about wildlife and about minimizing impacts on wild animals and respecting them.

Rep. Smith said today, “Every year, hundreds of thousands of wild animals are orphaned, injured or become sick. This resolution recognizes the work of wildlife rehabilitation centers and their self-less efforts to protect our wildlife. Today, we thank these individuals and organizations for what they do on a daily basis.”

As I travel around the country, I try to visit many of these wildlife rehabilitation centers, where I have been delighted to meet the selfless people providing a remarkable safety net for animals in crisis.  It’s a network of emergency care centers not nearly as numerous and well-funded as the array of dog and cat shelters and centers, but every bit as critical for animals. We join Congressman Smith and other lawmakers in saluting them and their life-saving work today.

June 25, 2014

Capitalism With a Conscience – for Animals

All over America, and around the world, corporations are listening to their customers and taking intentional steps to contribute to the new, emerging humane economy, one that lightens the burden of suffering for animals. I recently announced that Cargill, the largest private corporation in the United States, has set a timeframe for purging gestation crates from its supply chain. Earlier this year, Smithfield Foods and Tyson Foods, two other major meat producers, made announcements of a similar nature. And over the last two and a half years, we’ve seen 60 major American food retailers – the companies that sell the product to consumers -- agree to phase out their purchase of pork from operators using gestation crates. 

Safeway earns the Spira award for its work to end the use of gestation crates in its food supply chain. In the pork industry, most breeding pigs are confined for virtually their entire lives in these inhumane crates. Photo: The HSUS

Across the whole breadth of the economy, we are seeing a raft of companies from Whole Foods Market to Hampton Creek to Beyond Meat and LUSH Cosmetics providing opportunities for their customers to act on their values in the marketplace – on issues ranging from factory farming to animal testing to fur selling. 

One pioneer who contributed so meaningfully to our present-day successes is the late Henry Spira.  Between the mid-1970s and the 1990s, he spearheaded campaigns to end animal testing and pushed better treatment for farm animals, forging alliances between major corporations and animal protectionists. Spira recognized that the attentiveness of corporations to animal welfare concerns was central to our movement’s future success. In fact, Spira biographer and campaign partner Peter Singer published a very useful synopsis of Spira’s rules for effective corporate engagement on animal protection issues.

In recognition of his pathbreaking work, we worked with Professor Singer and others to create the Henry Spira Humane Corporate Progress Award, to recognize businesses, innovators and entrepreneurs committed to advancing progress on animal issues. In 2013, the inaugural year for the award, we recognized Aramark, Burger King and Sodexo for working to eliminate some of the worst factory-farming practices from their supply chains; CeeTox, Inc. for its work to replace the use of animals in chemical and other product testing; and the Consumer Specialty Products Association, which brokered an industry-wide agreement to add a bittering agent to antifreeze and engine coolant to prevent accidental poisoning of children and animals.

Fur-free fashion 2
John Bartlett, Inc. earns the honor for its celebration of fur-free fashion and for its work to raise awareness about the inherent cruelty of an industry that each year kills 75 million animals for fashion. Photo: Greg Vaughan

This year, we honor the country’s second largest grocery store chain, Safeway, and fashion designer John Bartlett, Inc. with the Spira Award. Safeway earns the honor for its work last year to end the use of gestation crates in its food supply chain and for moving toward group housing for pigs. In the pork industry, most breeding pigs are confined for virtually their entire lives in these inhumane crates that are barely two feet wide, essentially immobilizing the animals for the duration of their lives.

Our second awardee this year is John Bartlett, Inc., which earns the honor for its celebration of fur-free fashion and for its work to raise awareness about the inherent cruelty of an industry that each year kills 75 million animals for fashion. In 2012, my friend John Bartlett, the namesake of the company, made fashion week history with the debut of his 100 percent cruelty-free menswear collection.  His work makes plain that style and fashion won’t suffer in the least when we shed fur from our garment choices.

Safeway and John Bartlett, Inc. are trailblazers leading the way in a private sector that is becoming more aware of animal issues and more humane with each passing year.  While it’s true that a small number of companies and trade associations continue to cling to their business models grounded on cruelty and exploitation of animals, attacking The HSUS and fighting reforms supported by the public, they are really the outliers in a sea of change that’s bringing our economic lives and practices into greater alignment with our values. Their stubborn commitment to the status quo of cruelty and indifference to animals is bound to be swept away by the swell of support for humane values everywhere.

We’re dedicated to transforming our economy for the better, helping animals in the process.  The HSUS is the number one provider of animal-care services among humane organizations, through its own hands-on programs for pets, wildlife and other creatures in crisis.  And we are the nation’s number one, high-impact animal advocacy organization, driving change in the realms of public awareness, public policy and, of course, corporate reforms.  Today, we celebrate the corporations joining our movement and doing right by animals.  These companies would make Henry Spira proud, and we thank them.

June 24, 2014

Time to Tighten Grip on Imports of Constricting Snakes

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is rightly looking to finish up a job it left incomplete over two years ago – examining whether five species of large, non-native constricting snakes, all judged by the U.S. Geological Survey to be an ecological threat, should be listed as “injurious” and prohibited for import or interstate trade for use as exotic pets.

In 2012, the agency listed only four species – the Burmese python, Northern African python, Southern African python, and yellow anaconda – but punted on the other five species. At the time, the reticulated python, DeSchauensee’s anaconda, green anaconda, Beni anaconda, and boa constrictor represented about 70 percent of the trade in large constricting snakes. It’s time for the Obama administration to finish the job, stopping a reckless trade that results in snakes dispersed in our communities and ultimately leaving a major ecological wake.

Burmese python
Burmese pythons in the Everglades may have contributed to a 99 percent decrease in the numbers of certain small- to medium-sized mammals. 
Photo: National Park Service

Dogs and cats were domesticated for thousands of years, and they have a place in our homes. The large constricting snakes we are talking about are wild animals, native to Africa, Asia and South America. While we agree that they are fascinating and remarkable animals, they are best suited in their native environments, and they don’t belong in the wildlife trade or in our bedrooms and basements. They die during capture and transport. In the end, too many people get them and then tire of them or realize that they do not have the resources, space and expertise to care for them properly, and release them. Some of the snakes adapt to the wild, becoming invasive species.

Boa constrictors, the most popular of the nine large constrictor snakes in the pet trade, are predators who can grow up to 13 feet long, and they can and have killed large mammals, including humans. They have now become established in Miami-Dade County and Puerto Rico, and if they become established like Burmese pythons have in south Florida, they could cost the nation tens of millions of dollars in eradication programs – to say nothing of the effect on native species of birds and small mammals, including endangered ones. One study showed that Burmese pythons in the Everglades may have contributed to a 99 percent decrease in the numbers of certain small- to medium-sized mammals.

Here at The HSUS, we have tracked more than 500 human safety incidents involving large constrictor snakes that include attacks, intentional releases and escapes from poorly secured cages. Boa constrictors and reticulated pythons have already killed five adults and three babies, and the danger continues to escalate.

But even with this full-blown problem on our hands, and stories about constrictors on the loose hurting wildlife and humans making it into the media every day, private dealers continue to trade millions of large constricting snakes via the Internet and through pet stores. Some of the stories defy belief: last year, for instance, authorities discovered 850 snakes, including a Burmese python, in the garage of a New York area animal control officer who was selling the snakes over the Internet. 

Join me to ask for a final rule that will end, once and for all, the inhumane trade of these beautiful, wild creatures who do not belong in glass cages or big boxes in someone’s house, or as abandoned pets wreaking havoc in the wild.

June 23, 2014

Unreasonable Delay, Unthinkable Abuse

The GlobalPost, an award-winning news site that covers international issues, reports that there may be more than 3,000 puppy mills in South Korea that are churning out dogs not only for sale in that country, but also for export to the United States. This, despite a law that The HSUS worked to pass to forbid the import of puppies from foreign mills for resale.

Puppy mill pup
The USDA needs to crack down urgently on foreign shipments of puppy mill dogs into the United States. Photo: Chuck Cook/The HSUS

In 2008, The HSUS worked to include a provision in the Farm Bill to ban imports of dogs less than six months of age for resale, because of our findings that foreign breeders and dealers were shipping dogs into the country from Eastern Europe, China and Mexico. Many of the dogs were ailing or dead by the time they arrived in the United States on long-distance flights. The language was also supported by the American Veterinary Medical Association and the American Kennel Club. Congress adopted the provision, but the U.S. Department of Agriculture said it needed to promulgate regulations to enforce the provision. Now six years since congressional enactment of the law, and even though an entirely new Farm Bill was drafted, debated and adopted after protracted debate, the USDA still has not taken final action on a relatively non-controversial provision to shut down the U.S. market to unscrupulous foreign breeders and dealers.

“On a GlobalPost undercover visit to a vast puppy mill in Gimpo, northwest of Seoul,” according to reporter Geoffrey Cain, “a breeder said he refuses to export ‘teacups,’ estimating that one in every three dogs dies during shipping or within a month of their arrival.”

In March, 38 U.S. Representatives wrote to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack demanding action and highlighting the inordinate delay, noting that the agency published a proposed rule in September 2011, but has taken no final action.    

“Congress recognized that this law is needed,” wrote Reps. Dina Titus and Jim Moran and three dozen other lawmakers, “to address: (1) a critical public health threat – imported puppies present a risk of transmissible diseases, including diseases which are transmissible to humans such as screwworm, rabies, scabies and Brucellosis, and  (2), an acute animal welfare problem – many puppies arrive dead or are seriously ill due to being bred in inhumane conditions and having traveled long distances in cramped containers that may be exposed to extreme temperatures.”

The USDA did take action to close a gaping loophole in U.S. law, bringing Internet sellers of puppies under its authority.  But its puppy mill work is woefully incomplete until it cracks down on foreign shipments of dogs into the United States. There’s no excuse for this inaction and inattention, while dogs suffer so terribly.

You can help. Click here to tell the USDA to stop puppy mill imports.

June 20, 2014

Dogs at Work – but Definitely Not Working Dogs

A year ago, on the blog, I reported that the beagle had landed. It was just about a year ago that my wife and I adopted Lily – middle-aged for a canine – from a local rescue group. We feel like we hit the jackpot, and we are still dumbfounded that she had been passed over at nine adoption events, given that she’s the sweetest, most gentle and lovable dog out there (except for your dog, of course). 

Fortunately for me, The HSUS already had a “dogs in the office” policy in place, so when I am not traveling, I’ve been able to bring her to the office with me every day. That’s been a joy for me.

I am an evangelist for the idea, after seeing its impact in the workplace. It’s an incredible workplace benefit, and because today is Take Your Dog to Work Day –a day created by Pet Sitters International™ in 1999 to honor the human-animal bond – it’s a perfect time to introduce the idea to the management of your company. Here are some tips for convincing your boss to allow dogs at work, adapted from the book Dogs at Work: A Practical Guide to Creating Dog-Friendly Workplaces. And here’s my take, and Lily’s, on the idea.

June 19, 2014

Horses Need Your Help in Climbing Steep (Capitol) Hill

Dutch, a Tennessee walking horse, was subjected to soring. Photo: The HSUS

Thanks to The HSUS and some individuals who care deeply about horses, Dutch is safe today, protected by people looking out for him. But his story is not only a tale of woe, but also an extraordinary biographical intersection of two major horse-abuse problems The HSUS is working hard to address on the national level: “soring” and slaughter.

A Tennessee walking horse, Dutch had been a show horse subjected to soring,  an illegal practice where trainers inflict severe pain on the legs and feet of horses by mechanical or chemical means to cause them to step higher – a gait known as the “Big Lick” – and to win ribbons. 

Yet after his owners decided they were done showing him, they heaped another cruelty upon Dutch – selling him to people intent on slaughtering him for meat.  Last year, he would have been killed and cut up, just one more healthy American horse sent to slaughter, but for the intervention of The HSUS and the caring folks at Omega Horse Rescue in Airville, PA, who turned his life around.

Wayne Pacelle
I joined horses and their owners yesterday in the Walk on Washington, a rally on Capitol Hill to support the PAST Act. Photo: Valerie Pringle

We’ll make sure he’ll never enter either domain of horse exploitation – not to be intentionally abused again for show ribbons, or put into a kill box at a slaughter plant for human consumption.

But while Dutch had a remarkable turn of fortune, we cannot intercept and rescue all the horses in the soring industry or the slaughter pipeline.  Instead, we need policies to prevent this cruelty, so that no one tries to do this to animals in the first place. 

Yesterday, the All American Walking Horse Alliance led a rally of Tennessee walking horse owners to urge support for the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, S. 1406 and H.R. 1518.  This legislation, backed by The HSUS, the American Horse Council, the American Veterinary Medical Association, and many others, would increase penalties for illegal soring, ban the use of devices implicated in soring (stacks that conceal sharp and hard objects jammed into the tender foot and chains that rub against flesh burned with caustic chemicals), and eliminate a failed, corrupt industry self-regulation system. The House bill has an astonishing and almost unheard of 293 cosponsors, and the Senate bill has 56 – meaning that more than two-thirds of House members, and more than half of the Senate are actively supporting the legislation.

Keith Dane
Keith Dane, vice president of equine protection at The HSUS, addresses participants at the Walk on Washington. Photo: Valerie Pringle

We are working to get the PAST Act passed, as a free-standing bill, or as an amendment to a larger bill.

At the same time, we are working to maintain language in the Fiscal Year 2015 agriculture spending bill to bar horse slaughter plants from reopening on American soil.  We won House and Senate votes on this issue in their appropriations committees, but our adversaries may try to offer amendments to strip this anti-horse-slaughter language during Senate and House floor debate. You can call your federal lawmakers and speak out against slaughter and soring.

The Congress, with The HSUS helping to drive the debate, now has some major equine welfare issues in the saddle.  In Dutch’s story, we see precisely why these horse protection reforms must be enacted, and urgently so.

June 17, 2014

Not Standing Idly for Elephants in Peril

Poachers recently killed Satao, one of Kenya’s best known elephants, whose tusks weighed more than 100 pounds each and reached all the way to the ground. A poison arrow felled Satao in Tsavo National Park, and his death was announced last Friday by the Tsavo Trust and the Kenya Wildlife Service, who monitored his movements and tried to protect him.

The fight to protect Satao’s relatives and others of his kind must happen on the ground in the range nations. But it also must happen, in a different way, in the wealthy consumer nations where elephant ivory is carved and turned into high-value products.

The United States is the second largest ivory marketplace in the world, after China.
Photo: Sergey Khachatryan/The HSUS

Yesterday, lawmakers in New Jersey – a main point of entry into the United States for smuggled wildlife products – passed a bill, making this the first state legislature to ban all import and sales of elephant ivory and rhino horn. And this week, the New York legislature is expected to vote to implement a similar ban in that state. As the bills move to their final stage of approval with Governors Chris Christie and Andrew Cuomo, New Jersey and New York are neck and neck in the race to be the first U.S. states to ban ivory.

It might surprise some of you to know that there are major loopholes in U.S. laws restricting the elephant ivory trade. Those loopholes, combined with greed, have made the United States the second largest ivory marketplace in the world, after China. Enforcement and wildlife agencies remark that our current market for ivory provides cover for illegal ivory because of lack of adequate enforcement controls and the difficulty in distinguishing legally acquired ivory from the ivory of newly poached elephants. New York City is the nation’s largest market for elephant ivory, which makes the prospective ban in New York and neighboring New Jersey even more significant and potentially valuable in helping elephants in Kenya and the rest of Africa.

Last year, a criminal investigation by New Jersey state agencies and the federal government led to the prosecution of an international network of wildlife traffickers in rhino horns and elephant ivory worth several million dollars. The network’s ringleader, Zhifei Li, was sentenced to 70 months in prison last month in a U.S. district court in New Jersey.

Since the President’s Executive Order against poaching issued last summer, federal agencies have taken steps to implement meaningful change to address the wildlife trafficking crisis. The Executive Order created a Presidential Task Force and called for the development of a National Strategy for Combatting Wildlife Trafficking. The National Strategy was released this February and lays out how the administration can and should implement efforts to address this critical issue, including a federal rule to prohibit the importation and sale of elephant ivory across state lines.

Also, in April, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service temporarily stopped imports of sport-hunted trophies of African elephants from Tanzania and Zimbabwe in a much-needed reprieve for these animals.

Actress Meryl Streep, an American icon and a native of New Jersey, wrote to Gov. Chris Christie in a statement released today on behalf of The HSUS. Ivory is a “product of horrific cruelty to elephants, who could very well become extinct within decades if we don’t act now.”

About 35,000 African elephants were poached in 2012 for their ivory tusks. In Central Africa, populations of forest elephants have declined by 65 percent during the last decade. Asian elephants are endangered with fewer than 50,000 left in the wild. Just last year, of about 28,000 rhinos of five different species that remain in the wild, more than 1,000 were poached for their horns.

We know now that terrorist networks and other criminal syndicates are driving much of the poaching, as a way to generate cash for their violent, destabilizing efforts in Kenya and other countries in Africa.

Fighting these terrorist groups requires the efforts of the world’s most powerful nations to turn around the problem.The HSUS and Humane Society International can help in providing political support for closing loopholes and killing off the profits of the poachers. That’s why we applaud New Jersey lawmakers, led by bill author state Senator Raymond Lesniak, for firing this salvo against poachers.We hope that Gov. Christie signs the bill in short order, that New York lawmakers follow suit, and that the Obama administration makes final its national rule with all due haste.

June 16, 2014

Federal Court Ruling on 'Crush Videos' Just the Latest to Affirm Value of Animal Protection Legislation

It's still a crime to sell videos showing appalling forms of animal cruelty, after a federal appeals court upheld a federal anti-cruelty law Friday. This is just the latest in a string of federal court decisions, upholding the authority of Congress and the states to take action on a wide range of abuses against animals. I sat down this weekend with Jonathan Lovvorn, The HSUS’ senior vice president and chief counsel for Animal Protection Litigation, and discussed Friday’s ruling and a string of other important federal court cases – and how The HSUS’ work with legislative bodies and with the courts has been transformational for our movement.

Wayne: The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday reinstated a federal law that bans the sale of "animal crush" videos—horrific videos where men force women to torture animals for their sexual pleasure.  We know that state laws against cruelty are grounded on a solid legal basis, but it seems to me that this is meaningful to have this appellate court ruling on a federal anti-cruelty statute.

Jonathan:  Yes, this is one of the most important court decisions of 2014.  You'll remember that a few years ago the Supreme Court struck down a 1999 federal statute banning the possession and sale of animal crush videos in United States v. Stevens.  In response, The HSUS’ federal affairs and litigation teams worked with our allies in Congress to pass a new, constitutionally-sound ban on animal crush videos.  But last year a Texas district court struck that law down on First Amendment grounds as well.  So we joined with our pro bono partners at Latham & Watkins to persuade the Court of Appeals that the district court erred badly in assessing the law and this case. Last Friday, the court affirmed that Congress has a legitimate interest in preventing the “wanton torture and killing” behind animal crush videos and “that, as demonstrated by federal and state animal-cruelty laws, society has deemed worthy of criminal sanction.” The ruling bolsters the authority of the federal government and the states to set standards to prevent cruelty to all animals. 

The HSUS' litigation unit is focused on making sure that state and federal laws against staged animal fights are fully enforced.
Photo: The HSUS

Wayne: The HSUS and the Humane Society Legislative Fund, our lobbying arm, have worked methodically to fortify federal and state laws against dogfighting and cockfighting.  The original federal animal fighting law, enacted in 1976, was weak, and not enforced at all for a quarter century.  But we worked with Congress to upgrade that law in 2002, making all interstate and foreign transport of fighting animals a federal crime, and we started working with federal officials on some cases.  In 2007, we worked to upgrade penalties – to a felony – for the underlying crime, and in subsequent upgrades, banned the possession of fighting animals and the interstate transport of cockfighting implements.  This year, we worked with our allies in Congress to make it a crime to attend or bring a child to an animal fight. Of course, that rapid progress has rattled cockfighters, who have brought a series of constitutional challenges to the animal fighting laws.  

Jonathan:  Just a decade ago, it was legal in some states to attend a dogfight or stage a cockfight. No longer, because of the efforts of The HSUS, HSLF, and other organizations. Our litigation unit has now been focused on making sure these state and federal laws against staged animal fights are fully enforced, and also on fending off a series of constitutional challenges against the laws. Last year, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a key ruling upholding Congress’ authority under the Commerce Clause to ban even localized animal fighting due to the interstate nature of organized cockfighting rings.

Wayne: In the states, animal welfare groups, led by The HSUS and HSLF, have helped to pass about 1,000 laws in the last decade.  But as we succeed in passing these laws, it is inevitable that our opponents will try to get judicial review and to invalidate them by invoking a range of legal theories. Just take California in the last few years. Shark fin dealers challenged the ban on the possession and sale of shark fins, foie gras producers challenged the ban on the sale of foie gras from force-fed birds, and now some states are challenging the ban on the sale of cruelly-produced eggs.  We helped pass all of these laws, so it’s so important that we defend them.

Jonathan: It’s an important indicator of our movement’s progress that we now spend most of our time enforcing the law and defending our legislative victories. In these cases, someone is usually claiming some type of constitutional right to abuse animals—whether it’s the “right” to cram animals into tiny cages, the “right” to fight animals for gambling, or the “right” to crush animals to make obscene videos. Our opponents march into the courts because they have already lost in the court of public opinion and in the nation’s legislatures. Ironically, this was traditionally the recourse of the animal protection community—shut out of the political process, and focused primarily on difficult legal challenges to policies that had already been decided against us. This noticeable inversion in position—wherein those who profit from animal cruelty and abuse are now the ones stuck filing the last-gasp legal challenges — is an unmistakable sign that we are winning.

Wayne: The courts have also sided with us on the power of the states to ban the sale of horse meat for human consumption.  While we’re working tirelessly in Congress to ban the slaughter of all American horses, it’s so important that we maintain the state protections for horses.

Jonathan: We got our first big win on horse slaughter in 2007, when the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Texas’ ban on horse slaughter. Later that year we helped close the last horse slaughterhouse on American soil when we helped lead a coalition to pass and defend a ban on horse slaughter in Illinois.  In upholding that law, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals found that “States have a legitimate interest in prolonging the lives of animals” and promoting the “humane treatment of our fellow animals.” Last year, when horse slaughter threatened to resume in New Mexico, Iowa and Missouri, we filed a series of legal challenges that managed to halt these plans long enough for our legislative team to secure a Congressional rider to block any plants from opening in the United States. This type of integrated legal and legislative strategy is something only The HSUS has the capacity and sophistication to deploy successfully, and one of the major reason for our successes.

Wayne: Tell us what kind of human resources The HSUS has assembled to draft well-crafted bills, to enforce the law, to defend our gains in court, and to challenge overreaching and restrictive statutes by our adversaries.

Jonathan: In 2005, after the corporate combination with The Fund for Animals, we started building up in our house and pro bono legal team. It now consists of 25 attorneys, who specialize in many different areas of the law – wildlife, farm animals, anti-cruelty and international law. Our in-house experts partner with hundreds of cooperating attorneys, and many of the biggest, most respected law firms in the country.  This combined public interest and private practice legal “team” is the most important aggregation of legal talent that has ever been assembled in our movement, and you can see some pretty remarkable results from this investment of donor dollars and pro bono engagement. We are grateful every day that our supporters have enabled this new, critical legal capacity for a movement that has rather dramatically moved into the realm of public policy and law enforcement. The federal courts have proved essential on a wide range of other social reform movements – from the earliest civil rights victories to the enormous string of recent judicial decisions affirming marriage equality – so it’s logical that this would be a critical arena for our movement, too.

Click here for more information on The HSUS’ litigation program.