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Humane advocates sometimes consider the passage of animal-friendly legislation as a barometer of our success at the federal level, and good laws are unquestionably vital. However, a country that cares for animals must demonstrate that concern through its expenditure commitments. As a result, we seek to preserve animals and change legislative budget priorities for critical government agencies.
With the House and Senate preparing to vote on the federal government’s fiscal year 2022 funding package, we can see that our broad-based approach has made a difference again.
Increased financing for programs that expand sheltering alternatives for survivors of domestic abuse and their pets and strengthening the USDA’s enforcement powers regarding horse soring demonstrates the difference. It is evident in legislative limitations on using USDA funding to inspect horse slaughter factories in the United States (effectively closing such businesses) and support of non-lethal measures, such as immunocontraception, for managing wild horses and burros on our western rangelands.
These components of the package demonstrate a critical point: While we must advocate for animal-friendly legislation, we must also convince lawmakers to use their veto power to ensure that federal agencies pursue implementation, regulation, and enforcement efforts consistent with the spirit of those laws.
Whether we’re attempting to ensure that people fleeing domestic violence situations with their cherished animals have a haven, that the USDA has the resources necessary to prevent animal suffering in the Tennessee walking horse industry, or that the Bureau of Land Management prioritizes immunocontraception in wild horse and burro management, we need to ensure that the appropriate levers of government are pulled across a variety of federal agricultural agencies.
Since early 2021, we have been pursuing these critical advances. Our team engaged with lawmakers regularly for a year, responding to their inquiries, sharing our views and supporting evidence, and encouraging them to push these policies. Finally, we examined ways to increase financing for particular programs or compel reform or course correction via legislative orders.
Additionally, there is positive news for animals included in the package, which contains several additional accomplishments for which we battled long and hard. Congress pressured the USDA to reject a faulty enforcement strategy based on “teachable moments”—which were simply a ruse for inspectors to avoid recording issues at puppy mills, roadside zoos, and other regulated facilities—and establish a more robust compliance system. Additionally, it expanded money for the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program, which assists veterinarians in establishing practices in underprivileged communities.
They also tightened trophy-hunting organizations can implement the Fish and Wildlife Agency to report on its elephant and lion trophies importation license application evaluation processes, expressly whether permits are granted based on well-founded evidence that exporting countries protect these species adequately.
They also raised money for the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale and other dwindling and trafficked species, which is another positive development for wildlife. They reintroduced provisions requiring animal welfare inspections at USDA’s own Agricultural Research Service laboratories and prohibiting “Class B” dealers (notorious for their questionable animal dealing practices). They urged the Biden administration to continue its commitment to developing alternatives to animal research and testing.
President Biden is expected to sign the spending bill into law soon after the House and Senate votes. That pen stroke will bring our public policy team’s extensive and arduous workstream to a close. However, it will also indicate that we have been successful in our recent efforts to enhance animal care and protection via the legislative process, making our country more compassionate.