Capitol Hill’s Animal Friends

i March 12, 2008

One of the lesser known positive stories about activities on Capitol Hill is the interest of some Representatives in the welfare of animals. Spurred by the efforts of Rep. Christopher Shays (CT) and the late Rep. Tom Lantos (CA) The Congressional Friends of Animals Caucus is at the leading edge of pro-animal legislation in the United States Congress.

According to Congressman Shay’s website, The Congressional Friends of Animals (CFA) Caucus “is a bipartisan congressional organization that raises awareness within Congress on animal welfare issues. It was founded in 1989 and has been co-chaired by Rep. Christopher Shays (R-CT) and [the late] Rep. Tom Lantos (D-CA).”

The CFA organizes forums and briefings for Members of Congress and their staff on issues affecting animals and upcoming animal welfare legislation formed around the interests and needs of the Members. CFA also tracks legislation and provides Members of Congress with reliable, up-to-date information. Because our membership covers a wide spectrum of beliefs, the CFA does not write policy papers or produce issue briefs.

The organization has achieved success in building coalitions among Members on specific animal protection bills. CFA members have used the organization to help promote animal welfare issues of particular interest to them and their constituents.

Congressman Shays, as he states categorically on his website, is “committed to animal welfare because I believe humankind has an obligation to all animals.” He adds that “[s]ome species have become our companions and some play important roles in sensitive ecosystems. It is our duty to protect and care for all of these animals.”

In furtherance of that commitment, Shays has sponsored many pro-animal initiatives in the House of Representatives, among them:

Shays and Lantos introduced the Pets Evacuation and Transportation Standards Act, requiring state and local preparedness groups to include plans for evacuation of pet owners, pets and service animals in the event of a major disaster like hurricane Katrina. This legislation passed overwhelmingly on May 22, 2006, by a vote of 349 to 29.

Shays and Rep. Peter DeFazio (OR) introduced the Farm Animal Stewardship Purchasing Act, requiring that those supplying food to the federal government—including the military, federal prisons, school lunches, and other programs— meet a basic set of modest welfare standards for farm animals.

Shays is a co-sponsor of the American Horses Slaughter Prevention Act, which is similar to H.R. 297. H.R. 503 would prohibit any person from: (1) slaughtering a horse for human consumption; (2) importing to, or exporting from, the United States horseflesh or horses for human consumption; or (3) selling, bartering, transferring, receiving, or distributing horseflesh or horses for human consumption.

Shays voted for an amendment to the Agriculture Appropriations Act that prevents horse slaughter. The amendment prohibits the use of funds to pay salaries and expenses of personnel to inspect horses under the Federal Meat Inspection Act, which is required before the horses can be sold.

Shays is an original cosponsor of the Downed Animal Protection Act, requiring that livestock animals that are too sick to walk must be “humanely euthanized,” meaning that they must be rapidly killed by mechanical, chemical or some other means.

Shays, consistent with his support for the preservation and protection of endangered species, voted against the Threatened and Endangered Species Recovery Act because it made it more difficult to list species as endangered or threatened and sweept away regulatory protections for those that are listed as such. (The bill also weakened the process by which the government ensures its own actions do not jeopardize species and created a mandatory entitlement program for private property owners, which was likely to be hugely expensive. Finally, the bill appeared to give the opinions of individuals without any scientific expertise equal standing with those of scientists and repeals protections against hazardous pesticides).

Shays is a co-sponsor of the Yellowstone Buffalo Preservation Act, which would prohibit state and federal government agency officials from hazing, capturing, or killing Yellowstone bison on federal lands except when a person’s life is in danger or property has been damaged.

Shays is an original co-sponsor of the Inhumane Trapping Prevention Act, which would ban the use of steel-jawed leghold traps on animals in the United States. The traps are excessively cruel and unselective—often capturing both wild and domestic non-target animals.

Shays is a co-sponsor of the Captive Primate Safety Act, which prohibits the sale of nonhuman primates—such as chimpanzees, monkeys, lemurs and others— because of is concern about humans holding nonhuman primates as pets.

Shays was a co-sponsor of the Captive Wildlife Safety Act, which bars interstate and international trade and transport of exotic cats, specifically of lions, tigers, leopards, cheetahs, jaguars, and cougars, except by persons and entities holding appropriate licenses, because he believes big cats should not be held as pets.

Shays is a co-sponsor of the Pet Animal Welfare Statute, which would strengthen enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act by requiring commercial breeders who annually sell more than seven litters of dogs or cats, or sell more than 26 dogs and cats directly to the public to be licensed by the United States Department of Agriculture.

Shays is an original cosponsor of the Pet Safety and Protection Act, which removes the incentive to procure animals through theft or fraud by mandating that research facilities acquire dogs and cats from licensed dealers, legal owners, or publicly-owned and operated pounds or shelters.

Shays is a co-sponsor of the Animal Fighting Prohibition Enforcement Act, which increases the imprisonment penalty for animal fighting violations from one year to two years and also makes it unlawful to ship in interstate commerce a knife, gaff, or other sharp instrument used in cockfighting.

Shays introduced a House Resolution recognizing National Pet Week and calling for its annual observance.

Shay’s caucus sponsored a hearing on the humane treatment of animals because there is no federal law regarding the treatment of farm animals.

Shays, in connection with the farm animal problem, addressed the annual Taking Action for Animals Conference.

This support for animals by Congressman Shays, and his colleagues both within and outside of The Congressional Friends of Animals Caucus—though in its details revealing a disappointing acceptance of certain “animals-as-property” assumptions—is nonetheless spectacularly impressive and extremely commendable.

Indeed, it points to the inescapable conclusion that ideas do have consequences, and that the right ideas can exercise a formidable influence on those who make, or do not make, laws regarding animals.