Monday, December 20, 2021

On the surface, perhaps, the most important legislative packages approved in the U.S. Congress and signed into law this year—the American Rescue Plan Act (focused on COVID-19 relief) and the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act—may not have seemed relevant to the mission of animal protection. But the truth is that both contained sweeping gains for us, and this was no accident.

We made the case that certain animal protection concerns fell within their scope, and with our allies in the House and the Senate, we took strategic action to ensure their inclusion in the two packages in which Congress provided over $750 million in direct support to help animals. This is on top of the tens of millions of additional dollars appropriated for several issues including Horse Protection Act and wildlife protections work for which we successfully lobbied, which we hope Congress will approve early next year. These were the signal achievements of the Humane Society Legislative Fund’s federal public policy work in 2021, but they were not the only ones. Here’s the rundown on what we think was a great year for animals in the nation’s capital. 

The American Rescue Plan Act features provisions to improve surveillance and inspection of wildlife trafficking and wildlife markets, hotbeds for disease spread and incubators of animal suffering. The government’s commitments include $300 million for USDA monitoring of animals susceptible to COVID-19; and $105 million to support U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) activities to prevent pandemic spread by clamping down on wildlife trafficking and wildlife disease. This package also included a staggering $10 billion for the U.S. Agency for International Development for COVID-19 prevention, preparation and response activities focused on zoonotic disease, which promises to bring additional benefits to animals.

Passage of the Infrastructure and Jobs Act was another signature victory, allocating $350 million for grants to mitigate wildlife-human traffic collisions through enhanced animal-friendly infrastructure at overpasses and underpasses throughout the United States.

The 117th Congress saw the introduction of many of our priority animal protection bills, too. One very deserving measure passed into law in late summer when President Biden signed the Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemembers (PAWS) for Veterans Therapy Act, which will increase the number of service dogs available to support veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder and related conditions through a dog training therapy program.

Each year, Congress sets spending priorities and allocates taxpayer dollars to fund specific programs in federal agencies. This year, we went big in our efforts to push for animal-friendly commitments in government appropriations, and the pending FY 2022 package is full of them. 

These commitments include increased funding to strengthen law enforcement efforts against horse soring, expand sheltering options for survivors of domestic violence and their pets, and provide student loan repayment to veterinarians who work in underserved areas. Other pending gains involve directives to prevent horse slaughter in the U.S., permanently bar the use of USDA funds to license random source animal dealers (who were notorious for acquiring dogs and cats by pet theft to sell into research), permanently require inspections of USDA laboratories for Animal Welfare Act (AWA) compliance, enhance animal welfare compliance at puppy mills, zoos, laboratories and other facilities, promote egg farmers’ transition to cage-free operations, limit higher-speed slaughter plant lines, and reduce animal testing.

With respect to wildlife the appropriations process resulted in congressional directives to prohibit imports of elephant and lion trophies into the U.S. from three key African nations, improve long-term humane management of wild horses and burros, encourage swift transfer of chimpanzees from laboratories to the federal sanctuary, boost funding for stranded marine mammal rescue and to protect imperiled Florida manatees, increase resources to end global wildlife trafficking and live wildlife markets, promote design strategies for federal buildings to reduce bird mortality from collisions, and sustain a U.S. Postal Service stamp program that funds wildlife conservation. 

This was all great news, but our work to finalize these victories is not over. The fate of these measures will be determined in House/Senate negotiations in the new year, with a looming February deadline to avoid a government shutdown. We’ll continue pressing Congress, with the help of our friends and supporters, to finish the job rather than adopting a stopgap measure that lacks these valuable provisions and punts the problem of funding the government to the next Congress.

Regulatory work: 
Federal rules or regulations and enforcement actions are the primary vehicles that agencies of the federal government use to advance general objectives and to implement specific laws approved by the Congress. We consistently engage the many federal agencies with animal welfare responsibilities and mobilize congressional allies to press the case with us, and our efforts to promote positive agency action produced great results in 2021. 

The Department of Justice took a number of decisive steps during the course of the year, confiscating 68 lions, tigers, lion-tiger hybrids and a jaguar from the property of Jeff Lowe at his “Tiger King Zoo” in Thackerville, Oklahoma, and through an agreement, banned him from exhibiting animals under the AWA. The DOJ worked with the USDA to also file a complaint alleging that an Indiana-based USDA-licensed dog breeder was failing to provide the dogs at his operation with adequate veterinary care, sufficient quantity of nutritious food, potable water, and safe and sanitary housing. The dealer agreed to have his AWA dealer license revoked and a permanent prohibition on engaging in any activity that requires an AWA license. He also agreed to give up his dogs to a local animal rescue for adoption.

We were also heartened by several actions by agencies at the Department of the Interior. The FWS issued a final rule to revoke the previous administration’s weakening of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, returning to the decades-long standard of holding industries responsible when their actions result in foreseeable migratory bird deaths. The Biden administration also announced its intention to rescind certain Trump Administration regulations that undermined the Endangered Species Act, and to revise others. As part of this commitment, the FWS and National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) proposed rules to rescind two critical habitat regulations. If the new rules are finalized, they will restore the definition of “habitat” and regulations that govern critical habitat exclusions.

There were some important actions at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, too. Ending a decade-long delay, the USDA announced its decision to implement a rule requiring all facilities regulated by the AWA—including research facilities, puppy and kitten mills and roadside zoos—to have emergency response plans outlining how they’ll protect the animals in their care in the event of a disaster situation. The agency also committed to reconsider the previous administration’s position on the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices Rule finalized during the Obama administration, which in our view was one of the most important rules to establish better living conditions for farm animals to ever come out of a federal agency.

Finally, at the Department of Commerce, NMFS announced a long-awaited final rule that will require swimmers to maintain a distance of at least 50 yards from Hawaiian spinner dolphins in waters surrounding the Hawaiian Islands, and simultaneously proposed a companion rule that would establish mandatory time-area closures of Hawaiian spinner dolphins’ essential daytime habitats at five selected sites in the main Hawaii Islands. Taken together these rules will allow the dolphins the time and space to rest and recharge their energy while allowing tourism to continue in a responsible way.

The driving principle behind the work of the Humane Society Legislative Fund is that those who care about animals must unite around the shared conviction that animals deserve the highest protections we can achieve for them. At the federal level, our job, and our promise to supporters, is to carry the banner for animals in the big fights, for legislation, for appropriations and for positive regulatory changes. From year to year, the particular victories and successes may change, but the way we move our animal protection agenda does not. We bring experience, expertise and energy to our work, whether that involves meeting with congressional officials and their staff members, making the case in discussions with agency officials, developing the arguments needed to support legal petitions and filings, or mobilizing the political and public support so crucial to success in the federal policy arena. We’re proud of what we achieved together, and we hope that you are too.