As the year winds down to a close, I’m pleased to report that 159 new animal protection laws have been enacted this year at the state and local levels. That continues the surge in animal protection policymaking by state legislatures, and in total, it makes about 1,200 new policies in the states since 2005, across a broad range of subjects bearing upon the lives of pets, wildlife, animals in research and testing, and farm animals.
That is tremendous forward progress, closing the gaps in the legal framework for animals, and ushering in new standards in society for how animals are treated. I’d like to recap what I view as the top 10 state victories for animals in 2015.
Michelle Riley/The HSUS
We continued our successful campaign to fortify animal fighting statutes around the country, with Utah becoming the 42nd state to enact felony penalties for illegal cockfighting—further shrinking the number of states where cockfighting penalties are merely a slap on the wrist and the cost of doing business. After a multi-year battle in one of the toughest cockfighting states, the Tennessee legislature nearly unanimously increased penalties for attending an animal fight or bringing a child to an animal fight. And both Pennsylvania and Vermont closed a loophole in their laws by banning the possession of cockfighting weapons and paraphernalia such as the razor-sharp knives strapped to roosters’ legs.
California closed a loophole in its longstanding ban on the trade in elephant ivory and also banned trade in rhino horns, helping to crack down on international wildlife traffickers and dry up the demand for illegal wildlife products in the U.S., the world’s second largest retail market for ivory after China. Washington state voters overwhelmingly passed an even more comprehensive wildlife trafficking initiative, banning the trade in the parts of ten imperiled species, including elephants, rhinos, lions, tigers, leopards, cheetahs, marine turtles, and pangolins; the ballot measure passed in all 39 counties and with more than 70 percent of the statewide vote. And we succeeded in stopping an attempt to repeal California’s longstanding ban on importing or selling kangaroo parts.
New Jersey and Virginia passed consumer protection laws that prohibit pet stores from selling puppies from some of the worst puppy mill operators in the United States. The new rules ban the sale of dogs from large-scale commercial dog breeders with severe Animal Welfare Act violations. The Virginia law also cracks down on the unregulated sale of dogs and cats at flea markets, parking lots and rest stops. Louisiana, Nebraska, and Pennsylvania also strengthened their statutes regulating puppy mills, and a number of cities and counties restricted the sale of puppy mills dogs.
Dogs in Research
California, Connecticut, and Nevada all passed legislation requiring that healthy dogs and cats used in laboratory experiments must be made available for adoption by rescue groups rather than euthanized.
North Carolina’s ban on the use of gas chambers to euthanize homeless dogs and cats in animal shelters took effect in 2015, and the Kansas legislature mandated that regulations banning the use of gas chambers be promulgated. At least ten chambers closed in 2015, many of them through the work of The HSUS and its volunteer advocates, including the last known operational chambers in Nevada, Michigan, and West Virginia. Since we began our campaign to end the use of gas chambers on dogs and cats in shelters across the United States back in 2013, more than two-thirds of the chambers in existence have been closed, and there are now only seven states with known chambers still in active use.
Texas became the tenth state (along with three U.S. territories) to ban the trade in shark fins. These state laws help to dry up consumer demand and crack down on the brutal practice of hacking off the fins of sharks, often while they’re still alive, and throwing the mutilated animals back overboard to die slowly in the ocean—just for a bowl of soup.
Jennifer Kunz/The HSUS
Virginia passed legislation to ban a cruel rodeo event called horse tripping, which involves roping the front legs of a galloping horse, causing it to crash violently into the ground. Utah passed a law requiring the state agriculture department to educate the public about the hazards of horse tripping, and requiring that a report be filed with state officials whenever horse tripping occurs on publicly-owned facilities, such as county fairgrounds.
With Nevada being one of only five states in the country with no restrictions on the private ownership of dangerous wild animals as pets, the state’s largest county—with two million residents, more than 70 percent of the state’s population—has taken action. Clark County now bans the possession of tigers, bears, chimpanzees, and other dangerous wild animals. We hope this sets the stage for a statewide policy regulating the reckless individuals who keep dangerous predators in their bedrooms and basements and threaten the safety of the animals as well as the community at large. Arizona also banned the private ownership of primates as pets, and the West Virginia legislature adopted implementing regulations to ban wild and dangerous animals as pets. The cities of Austin, Texas and Richmond, Virginia both passed ordinances banning the use of bullhooks on elephants.
A number of western states took action to reduce or prevent the trophy hunting of cougars. South Dakota reduced “harvest limits” on the declining mountain lion population, Nebraska halted its plans for a mountain lion trophy hunt for 2016, and Colorado rejected proposals that would have killed up to 50 percent of mountain lions in certain areas of the state, and would have allowed electronic calls to be used by trophy hunters in order to lure in and shoot mountain lions at close range. We defeated bills in Oregon and Washington that would have resumed hound hunting of cougars, and Gov. Jay Inslee nixed a Washington plan that would have raised cougar hunting quotas by up to 100 percent in some areas. The California Fish and Game Commission voted to ban the trapping of bobcats statewide for their fur pelts.
California became the first state to crack down on the overuse of antibiotics to keep livestock in unsanitary, crowded conditions on factory farms. Unnecessary use of antibiotics has been linked to the development of antibiotic resistant infections, which affect at least 2 million Americans each year and cause at least 23,000 deaths. This legislation, backed by the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association, requires a veterinarian’s order for all antimicrobials sold over the counter for use in farm animals via the Veterinary Feed Directive.