The 110th Congress: Good News for Animals

House Natural Resource Committee Chairman Nick Rahall (D-WV)House Natural Resource Committee Chairman Nick Rahall (D-WV)

For the first time in 12 years, the Democratic Party controls a majority in both chambers of Congress. Two legislators notorious for disregarding animal welfare lost their reelection bids, and we anticipate that this change will encourage an animal-friendly shift in the 110th Congress. In the US House of Representatives, Democratic challenger Jerry McNerney defeated former Resource Committee Chairman Richard Pombo (R-CA). Throughout his almost 14 years in Congress, Pombo was relentless in his efforts to eviscerate animal welfare and environmental protection bills such as the Endangered Species Act. He defended the slaughter of wild and domestic horses, promoted the exploitation of wilderness areas for oil exploration, advocated the resumption of commercial whaling in Japan and Norway, supported bear baiting on federal lands, and backed steel-jaw leghold trapping in national wildlife refuges.

Fortunately, Pombo's position as chair of the newly renamed House Natural Resource Committee was passed on to Representative Nick Rahall (D-WV), who will put a halt to the former legislator's plans to gut the Endangered Species Act and permit oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Chairman Rahall is also the first Member of Congress to be honored through the Compassion Index's Profiles in Compassion for encouraging the US Government to step up its fight against efforts to resume commercial whaling.

In the Senate, the defeat of Senator Conrad Burns (R-MT) brought the loudest cheers within the animal welfare community. As a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee and chair of its Subcommittee on the Interior, Burns slipped a rider into a late 2004 omnibus appropriations bill that stripped wild horses and burros of over three decades of protections from slaughter and commercial exploitation. In this new Congress, Chairman Rahall and Representative Ed Whitfield (R-KY) have reintroduced a bill in the House as H.R. 249 to restore those vital protections. The American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act (AHSPA) has also been reintroduced in both chambers, as H.R. 503 and S. 311. We hope to use the momentum achieved in the last session to finally pass this legislation and save America's horses from being slaughtered for human consumption.

Horse Protection Act Scar Rule Maintained

Tennessee Walking Horses should be judged based on their natural gait—not one artificially inflicted by pain.Over the past half century, Tennessee Walking Horses have been dealt much needless pain and distress at the hands of a brutal industry. The horses' front feet and legs are commonly aggravated through the application of chemical or mechanical irritants, or by inhumane hoof trimming or pressure-shoeing techniques. This intentional infliction of pain is referred to as "soring" and causes the horses to accentuate their naturally animated gait. To end the cruelty, Congress adopted the Horse Protection Act in 1970 and amended it in 1976.

Last year, a segment of the industry intent on soring animals paid a lobbyist hundreds of thousands of dollars to weaken the law. The objective was to remove what is commonly called the "scar rule" from the definition of soring, thereby preventing enforcement action against horse owners for previously inflicted abuse that has left telltale scars. In a pivotal and coincidental move, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) disqualified championship horses at the biggest show of the year—the "National Celebration" in Shelbyville, Tennessee. This action led to a complete shut down of the show. These events sparked increased outrage against those inflicting such suffering. We applaud the US Congress' refusal to weaken the law, as well as the USDA's strong, much-needed enforcement.