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Standing together for animals

From Animal Sheltering magazine Summer 2017

Wayne Pacelle and his adopted dog, Lily.

There’s been so much tangible progress for animals in recent years—national euthanasia numbers continuing to decline, felony-level penalties for malicious cruelty enacted in every state, and major food retailers pledging to phase out purchasing animal products from farms that use extreme confinement systems. 

At the same time, there are immense and endless challenges. It seems the checklist of animal problems never shrinks. 

That means we can never shrink from confronting the problems. While the independent work of so many advocates is critical, there are times when we must stand shoulder-to-shoulder to defend animals from problems that occur on the largest scale. Our movement cannot choose between local, state and national work. We must work on all fronts, for all species. 

Think of Hurricane Katrina and the massive response from national organizations, private shelters, rescue groups and government-run shelters. It was an extraordinary outpouring of aid. In addition to rescuing thousands of animals in crisis, we worked together to prevent that sort of scenario from repeating itself, collaborating with lawmakers to pass 17 state laws to account for the needs of animals in disasters. At the urging of the humane community, Congress also enacted legislation to require states seeking Federal Emergency Management Agency assistance to accommodate pets and service animals in their emergency evacuation plans when major disasters occur. 

The fact is, if we don’t have strong national programs for animals, we won’t have strong local programs. It’s the federal government that enforces the Animal Welfare Act, the Horse Protection Act, the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act—the laws protecting animals in puppy mills, Tennessee walking horse shows, roadside zoos and slaughterhouses. These federal enforcement programs are often the only independent means of oversight. Without them, people who engage in cruel conduct will do so with impunity. 

People rightly look to The HSUS to lead the fight for vigorous enforcement of these laws. And they expect us to lead the fight for new laws that fortify the legal framework for animals. 

We are up to the task. But we cannot do it alone. Local organizations have more power than they realize to influence national outcomes. When we work together, we are an unstoppable force. 

Right now, there is a raft of federal legislation that our entire movement can rally to support. The Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture Act seeks to create a federal statute to combat malicious cruelty—one that complements state statutes. The Pet and Women Safety Act (PAWS) would enable domestic violence shelters throughout the country to have animal sheltering capacity so all the victims of domestic violence can be safe. The Prevent All Soring Tactics Act would strengthen federal law to crack down on horse soring. 

And because we’ve been successful in passing new laws and regulations to protect animals, abusive industries will try to roll back our progress. That’s why we must play defense, too. We cannot tolerate the removal of puppy mill inspection records and horse soring violations on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s website. And we must defend the new, better definition of “organic” that raises standards for animal care on American farms. 

We need your involvement. We have a network of district leaders working on these fights. Charitable groups and local governments can remind everyone associated with the federal government that opposition to animal cruelty is not a partisan value, but a universal one. Doing so is a civic duty. With so many lives at stake, it couldn’t be more important.

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About the Author

Wayne Pacelle is the former President and Chief Executive Officer of The Humane Society of the United States. Under Pacelle's leadership, The HSUS has been approved by the Better Business Bureau for all 20 standards for charity accountability, voted by Guidestar's Philanthropedia experts as the #1 high-impact animal protection group, named by Worth Magazine as one of the 10 most fiscally responsible charities, and is ranked in the top 10 for nonprofit brands.