2023 Federal Legislative Priorities:
Important animal welfare conversations are happening across the United States. On this page, you can read more about our current animal-focused Federal Legislative Priorities.
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H.R. 2742 - Fight Inhumane Gambling and High-Risk Animal Trafficking (FIGHT)
Fight Inhumane Gambling and High-Risk Animal Trafficking (FIGHT)
Act H.R. 2742, known as the Fight Inhumane Gambling and High-Risk Animal Trafficking (FIGHT) Act is a high priority for THLN. This bipartisan bill aims to crack down on illegal cockfighting and dogfighting by banning simulcasting of fights, stopping the shipment of animals to fighting operations, allowing citizens to sue animal fighters, and enhancing law enforcement’s ability to seize valuable assets.
Although rooster and dog fighting are illegal in all US states and territories, the advent of simulcasting has allowed the global animal-fighting industry to flourish. Cockfighting thrives in Southeast Asia, as well as in Mexico. Currently, it is not illegal for US spectators to watch or place bets on live and recorded animal fights staged abroad.
In addition to profits from gambling on simulcast fights, cockfighting enthusiasts profit from breeding and shipping animals, particularly roosters, across the globe. Neighboring state Oklahoma, considered the cockfighting capital of the US, shipped over 5,100 roosters to Guam between 2019 and 2022.
Despite the fact cockfighting is a felony punishable by jail time in Texas, the practice persists right here in the Lone Star State. Between 2020 and 2022, authorities arrested cockfighters in seventeen Texas counties stretching across fourteen of Texas’ thirty-eight US Congressional districts. While several hundred birds were seized, Texas law enforcement officials lament that prosecuting cockfighters for animal cruelty isn’t enough to stop the organized crime rings from flouting the law.
Apart from their vicious treatment of roosters and dogs, animal fighters are notorious for engaging in a wide array of illicit activities, including human trafficking, money laundering and illegal arms sales. Still, enforcement of animal fighting laws is lax in some states. Shockingly, in recent years, legislators in other states have attempted to lower the penalties for animal fighting or decriminalize it altogether.
Above and beyond the barbarity of forcing animals to fight to their death, animal fighting presents serious public health risks. Diseases such as avian flu spread easily from cockfighting operations to chickens grown for food. An epidemic of Newcastle disease in California from 2002-2003 was spread by cockfighting roosters immune to the fatal virus, and a massive outbreak in 2018-2020 caused the deaths of 16 million birds and $1 billion in containment costs. Similarly, H5N1 bird flu emerged in Asia in the early 2000s and spread via cockfighting. Human health could be seriously impacted if H5N1 were to mutate into a strain transmissible from human to human.
H.R. 2742, known as the FIGHT Act, will crack down on cockfighting and dogfighting. The Act will:
· Ban simulcasting and gambling on animal fights.
· Prohibit the shipment of mature roosters through U.S. mail.
· Create a civil lawsuit provision allowing citizens to sue illegal animal fighters.
· Allow authorities to seize real property for animal fighting crimes.
The Puppy Protection Act of 2023
THLN strongly supports H.R. 1624 known as the Puppy Protection Act of 2023. This bipartisan bill will update the standards of care commercial dog breeders licensed by the USDA must meet to better protect the health and wellbeing of animals in their facilities.
USDA standards of care under the current version of the Animal Welfare Act are so low they are referred to as “survival only” standards. For decades, standards of care at USDA facilities have lagged far behind standards imposed by state regulatory agencies. But not all states require a state license to breed and ship puppies.
USDA facilities are the operations that breed puppies for sale via the internet or to customers “sight unseen”. They have been the producer of choice for retail pet stores primarily because they always have a large “inventory” of popular breeds.
These producers, known in the industry as dealers, are able to have a constant supply of puppies by cutting corners at every turn, including confining dogs in cramped, wire cages, skipping vaccinations and overbreeding females. Some USDA licensees insist on performing surgical procedures themselves, like delivering puppies via cesarian-section. Animals in these facilities are routinely denied vet care, exercise, and socialization. Spent females are discarded or destroyed when they are no longer productive.
H.R. 1624, known as the Puppy Protection Act of 2023, would bolster protection for dogs in commercial breeding facilities by improving by:
· Improving housing standards, including requiring solid flooring, more space and temperature control.
· Requiring 30 minutes of socialization and exercise per day.
· Limiting how often females can be bred and requiring breeders to partner with shelters and rescues to rehome retired breeding dogs.
THLN was successful at improving the Texas Licensed Breeders Program (TLBP) which regulates dog and cat breeders who hold a Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation (TDLR) issued license by passing SB 876 in the 2023 Texas Legislative Session. However, TDLR does not have authority over the out-of-state USDA licensed producers who ship puppies to Texas to supply retail pet stores. Considering Texas is home to several retail pet stores that source from USDA suppliers, the Puppy Protection Act is vital to protecting both animals and consumers from sight unseen, out-of-state puppy mills.
While the Puppy Protection Act of 2023 aims to improve standards of care for puppies and breeding dogs in USDA-licensed facilities, H.R. 1788, known as Goldie’s Act, would close loopholes in the Animal Welfare Act that allow USDA licensees to escape consequences for cruel treatment of animals in their care.
Named after a Golden Retriever who suffered extreme neglect and died at a USDA-licensed in 2021, Goldie's Act will require the USDA to conduct more frequent and meaningful inspections, provide lifesaving intervention for suffering animals, issue penalties for violations, and communicate with local law enforcement to within 24 hours of citing licensees for cruelty.
Retail pet stores like to advertise that the puppies they sell come from USDA-licensed breeders because it gives the public the impression the puppies are sourced from clean, safe facilities. Regrettably, this is not so. USDA license holders have benefitted from regulation loopholes and lax enforcement for decades, but especially since 2017 when the USDA rewrote the inspection manual left inspector positions unfilled after inspectors left the agency. Thereafter, the number of reported violations declined significantly.
Before 2017, USDA inspectors recorded close to 2,000 violations yearly. In 2018, the number of violations cited on inspection reports fell to 280, and in 2020, the number declined to just over 150. Inspections plummeted further with the onset of the COVID pandemic and the majority of inspections conducted went virtual. The USDA inspections conducted at the facility where Goldie died were useless. The facility had racked up more than 200 violations over multiple inspections for cramming dogs in tiny cages, leaving dogs in cages filled with waste, and allowing dogs to die from disease and injury instead of seeking veterinary treatment.
In June 2021, the Office of Inspector General, the agency that audits federal programs issued a report showing USDA lacks transparency, does not follow up on complaints, and does not take enforcement actions against licensees. The report stated USDA's recordkeeping system is so deficient and unreliable the agency could not make informed management decisions or identify how many inspections had been completed. Nor did it have a complete list of all active licensees and inspections for the three-year period covered in the report.
Goldie’s suffering is just one example of an ongoing pattern of the USDA turning a blind eye to animal abuse. In 2022, the USDA recorded over 800 violations at USDA-licensed facilities. Incredibly, no animals were confiscated from breeders, no licenses were suspended, and no fines or penalties were imposed.
THLN strongly supports H.R. 1788 - known as Goldies Act – to require the USDA to interrupt animal suffering and punish problematic breeders. Specifically, Goldie’s Act would require the USDA to:
· Conduct annual inspections of licensee and grant access to all licensee facilities, requiring detailed descriptions of any observed violations.
· Confiscate animals who are suffering.
· Monetarily penalize licensees who violate the AWA.
· Share inspection information and reports with state, local, and municipal animal control or law enforcement within 24 hours of the inspection.
The Save America’s Forgotten Equines (SAFE) Act of 2023
For several years now, the federal government has de facto prohibited horse slaughter for human consumption in the US by refusing to fund USDA inspections of horse slaughter plants. But the problem of transporting American horses over our borders for slaughter remains. In 2022, the USDA reported more than 16,300 horses were shipped to Mexico to be slaughtered; more than 5,100 horses went to slaughter in Canada.
Horses are considered companions, not food, by Americans, and most have no idea thousands of American horses are killed for food each year. The journey usually starts at an auction where horses are bought at bottom dollar by “kill buyers” for transport. These transports cause extreme suffering because the horses are loaded in cattle trucks
and forced to travel for days without food, water, or rest. They suffer dehydration, injuries, and even death before reaching their final destination.
Dismembering horses for consumption isn’t just cruel, it’s a public health risk. Unlike animals specifically raised to be eaten, the vast majority of US horses have been treated with a multitude of pain killers, dewormers, and even illegal performance-enhancing drugs known to be dangerous to humans.
H.R. 3475, known as the Save America’s Forgotten Equines (SAFE) Act:
· Prohibits shipping, transporting, delivering, receiving, possessing, buying, selling, or donating horses and other equines to be slaughtered for human consumption.
· Codifies that slaughtering horses for human consumption is illegal in all fifty states. Currently, horse slaughter plants are shuttered because USDA inspections have not been funded for years, but strictly speaking, horse slaughter for human consumption is not illegal under federal law.
· Protects the human food supply by halting the flow of horses tainted with toxic substances to slaughter plants abroad.
House Resolution 3709 - Microchip Funding
THLN supports H.R. 3709 which will direct the USDA to enter into cooperative agreements with animal shelters and humane societies to fund microchipping of shelter dogs and cats. The legislation was filed in late May of 2023 and was referred to the House Agriculture Committee. Not many details about the legislation are available yet. But the benefits of microchipping pets are well known. Consider the following statistics from an American Veterinary Medical Association study published in the AVMA Journal:
· One in three pets will become lost at some point during their lifetime.
· Microchipping pets increases their chances they’ll be reunited with their families by orders of magnitude. Approximately 22% of lost dogs that enter shelters are reunited with their families. That rate of return jumps up to 52% for microchipped dogs, a 238% percent increase.
· Less than 2% of lost cats that enter animal shelters are reunited with their families, but the rate of return for microchipped cats is more than 38% which is a 2,000% increase.
House Resolution 3957 - The Providing of Unhoused People with Pets Act (PUPP)
By providing better accommodations for people experiencing homelessness who have pets, the PUPP Act will help remove a common barrier to shelter and services for vulnerable veterans, individuals, and families who gain strength from their companion animals.
Pets play a pivotal role in the lives of their human caregivers, regardless of their income level or housing situation. Pets have public health benefits at nearly every stage of life, including lower blood pressure, lower risk of heart disease, reduced stress levels, decreased anxiety and depression, strengthened immune systems, and increased physical activity. Animals can be especially important companions for people experiencing housing instability.
Studies have shown that people experiencing homelessness report that their pets provide a sense of responsibility and are a reason to live, reduce substance use, and seek healthcare. In 2022, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) counted over 582,000 Americans experiencing homelessness, including sheltered and unsheltered individuals. An estimated 12% of people experiencing homelessness have pets.
Currently, most emergency shelters do not accept pets – forcing individuals experiencing homelessness to choose between access to shelter and essential services or keeping their beloved pets. In most cases, individuals will refuse assistance and shelter if it comes with the condition of giving up a beloved pet. This scenario harms individuals’ well-being and contributes to the cycle of chronic homelessness. The PUPP Act offers a solution by creating a grant program – operated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in consultation with HUD – to provide funds to eligible entities, enabling emergency shelters to make the necessary changes to accommodate unhoused individuals with pets, including providing basic veterinary services. The program is modeled on the highly successful California Pet Assistance and Support Program.
Over two grant cycles, the state of California has allocated $15 million in small grants to nonprofit shelter operators to retrofit their facilities to accommodate pets. Both cycles were oversubscribed two to one, demonstrating the great interest and need for such accommodations. Feedback from grantees demonstrated that the investments allow the facilities to not just provide the necessary retrofitting, but also to provide support to both the owners and pets to ensure the long-term success of each in permanent housing. The California model demonstrates that a relatively modest amount of investment can make a big difference in the lives of those experiencing emergency housing needs, and ultimately save lives.
If you have any questions about these laws, please email [email protected].