Wednesday, December 20, 2023

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

Many people experience their first connections with animals through relationships with dogs, cats or horses. Just as these bonds are powerful and pervasive, so must our advocacy be since companion animals face myriad injustices and difficulties in the U.S. and around the world. We’ve already detailed the incredible progress made against the dog and cat meat trades in 2023, but there is much more to say on other fronts. Here are just some of the ways we created a more humane world for companion animals in the past year:

Stopping puppy and kitten mills

  • Each year, more people learn about the mistreatment suffered by dogs and cats at massive commercial breeding facilities, where dog and cat mothers and fathers are treated as little more than money-making machines. And each year, more people choose not to support this trade. We are heartened by how much happened in 2023 to bring this cruel industry to heel.
  • Oregon became the seventh state to stop the sale of puppy mill puppies in pet stores. We also helped pass 37 local humane pet store ordinances in 2023, bringing the total to over 480. Key wins occurred in Indianapolis, Indiana, and Louisville, Kentucky.
  • Almost 250 Horrible Hundred breeders have closed since we began publishing this report on puppy mills in 2013. In 2023 alone, about 500 animals have been rescued from Horrible Hundred breeders, including 110 cats in the Virginia case with which our Animal Rescue Team assisted.
  • We released our 10th undercover investigation of a Petland store, which revealed sick puppies sourced from puppy mills.
  • Six Petland stores closed, and two more scrapped their launch plans, thanks in part to new humane pet store ordinances. We also helped defeat harmful legislation in Indiana, Kansas and Missouri that would have blocked local ordinances prohibiting the sale of puppy mill dogs in stores.
  • Pennsylvania passed legislation to fund enforcement of its puppy mill law, require pet stores to post health and breeder information for puppies and require transparency in puppy advertising.
  • Washington state passed a law that prohibits financing for the purchase of dogs and cats.
  • More than 100 humane pet stores endorsed retail puppy sales bans in their states, and many joined our Puppy Friendly Pet Stores program, including Hollywood Feed, which has more than 170 locations.
  • We published a 15-year summary of puppy buyer complaints, revealing an overview of 7,887 consumer complaints and listing the top states for pet store and breeder complaints.
  • Attorneys general in several states took strong action against pet stores that refused to stop selling puppies or sold sick puppies, including large cases in New York and Maryland. In addition, Texas’s attorney general initiated an investigation into Petland, which has eight stores in the state. Altogether, more than $800,000 in fines have been assessed against noncompliant puppy stores in less than two years.
  • Our Animal Protection Law department continued to pursue litigation against Petland stores in Texas that deceived consumers into buying sick or dying puppies.
  • The Puppy Protection Act was re-introduced and gathered more than 220 bipartisan co-sponsors, and the Better Collaboration, Accountability, and Regulatory Enforcement (CARE) for Animals Act, introduced in July with bipartisan support, has more than 190 co-sponsors.

Keeping families together

Housing insecurity contributes to poor health, homelessness and other profound difficulties. We recognize the importance that stable and secure housing holds for people and their animals. Our work to preserve and honor the human-animal bond extends to fighting for better accessibility to pet-inclusive housing, as one of the most cited challenges for people with pets is finding housing that can accommodate their entire family, including companion animals.

  • In 2023, 28 bills were introduced across the U.S. to protect people with pets who face evictions or improve access to pet-inclusive housing. Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota and Texas passed their bills into law.
  • For years, we have been fighting breed-specific legislation and policies. In 2023, 16 municipalities repealed ordinances that regulate dogs based on their perceived breed, typically replacing those laws with more comprehensive and equitable dangerous dog laws.
  • Florida passed a law abolishing the state’s remaining breed-specific legislation and the Ohio 11th District Court of Appeals upheld a decision by the Girard Municipal Court ruling the city’s pit bull ban as unconstitutional, ending breed-specific legislation in five Ohio counties.
  • We made progress on a variety of approaches to increase tenant protections and remove barriers to pet-inclusive housing, including arbitrary restrictions on breed and weight, exorbitant fees and insurance exclusions.
  • We worked to ensure passage of legislation in Oregon and California to improve access to emergency shelter for people with pets. Oregon established a grant program to assist homeless and domestic violence shelters in accommodating pets by providing pet food, shelter, supplies and basic veterinary services. California passed legislation requiring local governments to designate emergency shelters, warming centers and cooling centers that can accommodate people with pets, as well as requiring that pet emergency preparedness information be made available on local government websites.

Protecting equines

Horses are often admired for their grace and strength, and yet they also suffer unique abuses. Our advocacy follows the cruelty, from show rings to racetracks to slaughterhouses, to eradicate it at its sources.

  • Thanks in part to our urging and successful, precedent-setting legal action against the agency led by our Animal Protection Law team and the pro bono efforts of Latham & Watkins LLP, the U.S. Department of Agriculture proposed a new rule aimed at ending horse soring. This rule seeks to eliminate devices used in soring and end the industry's self-enforcement system, transferring full enforcement authority back to the USDA. We actively engaged in advocacy efforts in support of this, including meeting with the White House Office of Management and Budget and congressional leaders to push for strong anti-soring regulations. Supporters submitted more than 107,000 comments to the USDA to urge swift implementation of a strong new rule to protect horses from the cruelty of soring. We hope the final rule will be issued in 2024.
  • In the U.S., our efforts to protect racehorses advanced when the Federal Trade Commission approved new regulations for the drug and medication program under the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Authority. The Authority is working to prohibit the use of performance-enhancing and pain-masking drugs in racehorses. The Horseracing Integrity & Welfare Unit, the independent enforcement agency of the Anti-Doping and Medication Control Program has already tested nearly 50,000 horses, certified more than 500 individuals for sample collection, and detected more than 30 unique prohibited substances in six accredited labs. This comprehensive effort has led to the adjudication of more than 100 cases involving controlled medications and banned substances. We continue to urge the racing industry to adopt and enforce a zero-tolerance policy toward any practice or condition that results in horse deaths.
  • At our continued urging, the U.S. House and Senate FY 2024 federal funding bills included language that prohibits the USDA from using tax dollars for horse slaughter plant inspections in the U.S. Also, the Save America's Forgotten Equines (SAFE) Act, legislation we’ve championed for years, was reintroduced in Congress seeking a permanent ban on the slaughter of equines in the U.S. and their export for slaughter for human consumption.

Helping dogs and cats around the world

Around the world, we focus on delivering veterinary services to rural and remote communities. We work to build local capacity by training veterinarians and working with local governments. Our community engagement teams empower the individuals they encounter in the course of their work, allowing them to provide better care to their animals.

In India,

  • We launched a new nationwide veterinary training and capacity building project for local charities to improve the humane management of street dogs.
  • After successfully completing a massive dog management project in the large city of Vadodara, we launched the first street animal welfare directory in India. This is a compilation of individuals and entities that support street animals, such as community first-aid providers, private veterinarians that provide free or subsidized treatment, animal welfare organizations, government services and local businesses.
  • To date, we've spayed and neutered more than 70,000 street dogs (an estimated 60% of the total dog population) in Lucknow, the country’s 11th most populous city.

In Latin America,

  • Our veterinary training program in Bolivia has trained more than 50 veterinarians from across Latin America to improve regional access to spay/neuter services.
  • In Chile, our program recently celebrated treating more than 45,000 animals in extremely remote and underserved communities. Chile is a land of geographic extremes, and our teams have worked near deserts, glaciers and on coastal regions to provide animals with access to spay/neuter and medical services.
  • In Costa Rica, we supported the rescue and the rehabilitation of more than 1,500 dogs and cats seized from extreme cruelty.
  • In Guatemala, El Salvador and Costa Rica, we continue to advocate for greater awareness of and action against animal cruelty. Our team trained more than 1,300 law enforcement officers and government officials on animal welfare, humane handling and veterinary forensics, among others.

And in Bhutan, we celebrated the culmination of a 14-year partnership with the government on a program in which nearly 100% of the street dog population has been successfully sterilized and vaccinated, a major win for dogs and people.

None of this work would have been possible without the steadfast support of animal lovers all over the world. We look forward to all the good we can continue to achieve together in the coming year. 

Kitty Block is CEO of the Humane Society of the United States.