Mixed news on animal legislation in Harrisburg and D.C.

UPDATE: There are several more important animal welfare bills still awaiting action in Harrisburg: SB 972 - sponsored by Sen. Rich Alloway (R., Franklin) - and HB 826  - sponsored by Rep. Mario Scavello (R., Monroe) - would ban 24/7 tethering of dogs. If the bills sound familiar it's because versions of them have failed to get any traction for at least three legislative sessions - this while, other states including Georgia and Alabama have taken action to make it a crime to chain your dog outside at all times. Remember, no humane officer is going to cite anyone for letting their dog out for a potty break or even letting them enjoy a few hours outside on a comfortable day. In fact, both bill only bar overnight (10 p.m. to 6 a.m. tethering). But think about living at the end of chain with no shade on this hotter-than-Hades day.



Good news, bad news for animals in Washington and Harrisburg recently.

Word arrived today in nearly back-to-back press releases from the Humane Society of the United States that a U.S. House committee had voted to block funding for horse slaughter plant inspections and language to improve conditions for hens in egg farms was removed from the Farm Bill.

Meanwhile, in Harrisburg, Gov. Corbett last week signed the first substantive piece of legislation aimed at protecting companion animals since Gov. Rendell in 2009 signed an anti-cruelty bill mandating only vets could perform surgeries on dogs.

At the same time a number of companion animal and wildlife bills languish in the state legislature.

On horse slaughter, the House Appropriations Committee today approved an amendment offered by Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) to block spending by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to inspect U.S. horse slaughter plants next year.

“When more than 80 percent of the American population opposes this practice, it is high time we put an end, once and for all, to industrial horse slaughter,” said Moran. “Horses hold an important place in our nation’s history and culture, treasured by all for their beauty and majesty. They deserve to be cared for, not killed for foreign consumption.”

Just last November Congress reinstated inspection funding that had been eliminated since 2005, opening the door for slaughter plants to open again in the U.S. Already. potential operators were scouting locations in New Mexico, Wyoming and Missouri according to news reports.

That measure must still be approved by the full House and Senate. But as Michael Markarian, president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund put it in his blog Animals and Politics, the end-game is passage of the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act to halt live exports of U.S. horses for slaughter.

A setback for animal protection in the Farm Bill when Senate leaders did not allow either of the major animal welfare amendments to get a vote: the amendment by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) to make it a federal crime to attend or bring a child to a dogfight or cockfight, or the amendment by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) with bipartisan support to improve the treatment of egg-laying hens.

Markarian said the move was surprising because the animal fighting legislation has virtually no opposition, and the egg industry legislation is the result of collaboration and problem-solving by all the major stakeholders. He blamed the pork and beef industry lobby - which has no pig nor steer in the this fight because there is no porcine or bovine-related language in the amendment.

This comes after a successful agreement was announced by HSUS and United Egg Producers to phase out the use of so-called battery cages for laying hens. Pennsylvania is the third largest egg producing state. 

But Markarian notes animal welfare advocates prevailed in blocking an amendment by Sen. Jon Tester (D., MT) that would allow the import of sport-hunted polar bear trophies and block efforts to get toxic lead out of ammunition.

Markarian said there will be another opportunity to have animal welfare amendments considered and that animal advocates are working to pass the Egg Products Inspection Act Amendments of 2012, which has the support of animal protection groups, veterinary groups, consumer groups, and the egg industry.

In Harrisburg, Gov. Corbett last week signed a bill aimed at protecting service dogs by allowing police to charge the owners of dogs that attack a service dog. HB 165 was the first companion animal protection bill since Gov. Rendell signed a bill stipulating that only licensed veterinarians could perform C-sections and most ear-cropping and tail docking procedures.

While animal welfare advocates are praising Corbett and the legislature for taking action to protect service dogs, they say many more bills with even wider public impact have not moved  - or are moving slowly.

Among the bills are: SB 1329, which would eliminate the use of gas chambers in shelters (that passed the Senate but has yet to be approved by the House) SB 921, that would create a registry of those convicted of animal abuse, much like Megan's Law for sex offenders. SB 968 would add pets to restraining orders. SB 626 would ban live pigeon shoots. HB 1765 would allow individuals to claim a tax credit for adopting a shelter animal.