July 2, 2020 0 Comments
The Iowa law, signed on June 29, provides much-needed upgrades to the state’s animal cruelty law, including requiring outdoor shelter, grooming and veterinary care for dogs. Photo by Meredith Lee/The HSUSShare1KTweetRedditEmail1KSHARES
We have good news to share from Mississippi and Iowa, the only two states in the nation without a law on the books that would make acts of animal torture, like burning, drowning and intentional starvation, an automatic felony. Recently, Mississippi’s state legislature passed a bill that would do exactly this. And although we are still fighting for a similar outcome in Iowa, we are pleased to report that the state recently made its first significant update to its domestic animal cruelty law in 20 years.
The win in Mississippi is an especially proud moment for us here at the Humane Society of the United States, because we have led the battle for a felony animal cruelty law there for more than a decade. The final bill that passed the statehouse on July 1 mimics language from the federal PACT Act, which we also pushed for and which was signed into law last year. While the federal law allows prosecutors to bring federal felony charges when these acts occur within federal jurisdiction or when animals are moved across state lines, or the internet is used as part of a criminal enterprise, a state law is needed to prosecute those who commit violent acts against animals on Mississippi soil.
The bill that passed in the state increases the penalty for egregious animal abuse such as torture and intentional starvation from a misdemeanor to a felony, and prohibits ownership of dogs and cats for a period set by the court after conviction. It also addresses an oddity in the law that allows the defendant to be charged with just one misdemeanor no matter how many animals were abused.
We applaud Mississippi lawmakers for passing the bill, and we urge the governor to sign it into law. We are especially grateful to Mississippi state Sen. Angela Hill for her dedication to sponsor the bill year after year, and Sen. Brice Wiggins, Rep. Jill Ford, and Speaker Phillip Gunn for supporting and promoting its passage. A strong law against animal torture doesn’t just protect animals; it protects people of the state as well. We now know that violent behavior toward animals has been continuously linked with other forms of criminal violence, including child abuse and domestic violence, making it all the more important to catch and stop those who commit acts of animal abuse early.
The Iowa law, signed on June 29, provides much-needed upgrades to the state’s animal cruelty law, including requiring outdoor shelter, grooming and veterinary care for dogs. Puppy mill owners with a previous conviction for animal cruelty would face a felony penalty for abuse or neglect if the act causes serious injury or leads to the animal dying.
The law, which passed despite strong opposition from the American Kennel Club and puppy mill operators, including some who appear on the HSUS Horrible Hundred list, also strikes nonsensical language in a previous law that allowed charges to be filed only if a person committed abuse against an animal owned by another person and exempted owners from charges when they abused their own animals.
While these changes will certainly improve the quality of life for animals in Iowa, we are saddened that the Iowa General Assembly missed an opportunity to join the rest of the country in making the torture of companion animals an automatic felony. Language that would have done so was included in the original bill, but lawmakers beholden to Iowa’s agriculture industry pressured their colleagues to strip it from the bill. Most Iowans support such a law, and a Remington Research poll in December 2019 showed 69% of Iowans believe domestic animal torture should be a felony charge.
Iowa is now a glaring outlier in our nation where the justice system and all levels of government have, just in the past five years, made tremendous progress in recognizing the link between human and animal cruelty. In addition to the PACT Act becoming law last year, the FBI has added animal cruelty as a separate category in the National Incident Based Reporting System, classifying it as a crime against society, the same category as rape and murder. The National Sheriffs Association created its first Animal Cruelty Committee and houses the National Law Enforcement Center on Animal Abuse, ensuring that the country’s law enforcement community has the best knowledge and resources at its disposal to combat animal cruelty. The Joint Counterterrorism Assessment Team, made up of the FBI, Department of Homeland Security and National Counterterrorism Center, determined in July 2018 that premeditated animal cruelty is a possible warning sign for terrorism.
We congratulate Iowa on strengthening protections for animals, and we now urge lawmakers there to quickly pass a bill joining the rest of the nation in making animal cruelty an automatic felony. By ensuring that the worst acts of animal torture do not go unpunished, they would not just make their state more humane for its animals, but they would also be ensuring the long-term safety of their citizens.
Also in the video you’ll see puppies, who were on offer for slaughter and sale at a market just outside Yulin, being rescued by Chinese animal activists. The activists, upon seeing the 10 puppies, questioned the stall holder about how the animals had been acquired, and he agreed to let the activists take them. The dogs are now being cared for at our partner shelter.
“I couldn’t believe that anyone would even want to eat these adorable little darlings,” said one of the activists, Jennifer Chen, who can be seen lifting a puppy from the cage in the video. “My hands were trembling…he kept licking my hands, and unbeknown to him I could easily have been a dog meat eater.”
China has made progress in recent months toward ending the dog meat trade, most significantly by confirming earlier this month that dogs are considered pets and not meat. While this is not in itself a ban on the trade, two cities—Shenzhen and Zhuhai—have banned the consumption of dog and cat meat.
Promisingly, in Yulin, too, there appears to be less activity this year than usual. With the resurgence of the coronavirus in Beijing and continuing travel restrictions throughout the country, dog meat restaurants and markets in Yulin are quieter. Trade overall is also sluggish, as traders told activists, because the government is cracking down on animal transport between provinces. This makes it harder for the traders to acquire live dogs from outside the Guangxi province as they did in past years, when large numbers of dogs were transported in trucks, spending days without food and water.
While in past years dog meat was sold at stores around the city, a majority of such sales have now been consolidated into one central area called Nanchao market on the outskirts of Yulin. The notorious Dongkou market, once the epicenter of dog meat sales and the slaughter of live dogs, has much fewer vendors than it did in past years. Dr Peter Li, HSI’s China policy specialist, believes this could be because authorities may want to keep a closer eye on all the dog meat trade activity by centralizing it.
As our partner group activists found out over three separate trips to Yulin in the last 12 weeks, dog meat consumption among the city’s residents has also dropped. They heard from people like Xiao Shu, a young store owner who lives in Yulin with her three dogs and 10 cats, and, like most young Chinese, would not dream of eating dog meat.
While all this is encouraging, even one dog killed for this trade is one too many. We stand with Chinese animal activists who are urging local authorities in Yulin to embrace the national government’s declaration that dogs are companions not food, by halting the dog meat festival and the year-round dog and cat meat trade there. The world’s eye, once again, is focused on China as this gruesome event unfolds, this time even more closely because of the coronavirus pandemic and its link to crowded markets where animals are slaughtered for food. Most people in China do not eat dog and cat meat, and there is no tolerance left there—or in the rest of the world—for such abject cruelty.
In recent months, China has made rapid progress toward quashing its infamous wildlife and dog meat trades. Last week, we got more good news on this front: China officially confirmed that dogs are pets and are not livestock for eating; and Wuhan, where the novel coronavirus is believed to have originated, prohibited residents from consuming all wildlife.
The declaration that dogs are companions and not livestock, first proposed in April, comes just weeks ahead of the Yulin dog meat festival, which begins June 21st, and where thousands of dogs and cats are killed for their meat each year. We hope this new development will lead to authorities in Yulin reining in—and even putting a complete stop to—this terrible event.
We also hope the declaration will lead China to act swiftly to end the dog and cat meat trade wherever it exists in the nation. Most people in China do not eat dog and cat meat, and animals who end up in this trade are often stolen pets who meet a gruesome end.
Unfortunately, the final livestock list issued by China’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs does include some wild animals, including foxes, raccoon dogs and mink, who suffer immensely in the fur trade. Keeping these animals in close, confined conditions has been known to increase the risk of zoonotic disease spread. We call on China to reconsider this decision and ensure that all wild animals are kept off the livestock list, and to ban the fur trade as well, if it truly wants to rebrand itself as a nation that cares about global human health and animal welfare.
Wuhan’s ban on eating wild animals now brings up to four the total number of Chinese cities that have announced similar bans. In April, the city of Shenzhen first banned the eating of wildlife and included dogs and cats in its ban. Last week, the city announced a free program for microchipping all of the city’s 220,000 dogs to encourage responsible pet ownership and stop the stealing of dogs for the meat trade. Also last month, the city of Zhuhai adopted a ban on wildlife and dog and meat consumption and the nation’s capital city, Beijing, banned the eating of wildlife.
But while the bans in these other cities are permanent, the ban in Wuhan will only be in place for five years. We are calling on Wuhan to make its ban permanent, because science and history have shown that these markets present great health risk to humans and they need to be closed down in China and elsewhere around the globe where they exist.
We also urge China, which announced a temporary nationwide ban on wildlife consumption in February, to make that ban permanent.
Last month we reported that several provinces in mainland China, including Hunan and Jiangxi, are offering wildlife farmers a buy-out to move away from breeding wild animals for food and transition to alternative livelihoods such as growing fruit, vegetables, tea plants or herbs for traditional Chinese medicine. This plan is similar to the one we have implemented in South Korea, where we have been successfully transitioning farmers out of the dog meat trade and into more humane livelihoods for six years now.
The developments in China are being accelerated by the coronavirus crisis, but they are truly heartening for our Humane Society International team which, along with local partners on the ground, has been sowing the seeds for this transformation in attitudes and practice for years now. We have contributed to public education, met with government officials, assisted with the rescue of dogs and cats bound for slaughter, and brought global attention to China’s dog meat trade by focusing media attention on events like Yulin where companion animals suffer so terribly each year. We have also shone the spotlight on the wildlife trade, which has led to some species of wild animals, including pangolins and tigers, being pushed to the brink of extinction.
The coronavirus pandemic has shown us that treating animals cruelly can result in disaster for humans, and there hasn’t been a better time to recognize the harm these practices cause and to root them out. The momentum in China shows signs of growing even stronger: at the just concluded annual session of the National People’s Congress, delegates to the national legislature submitted several proposals to outlaw animal cruelty, shut down the wildlife trade, outlaw dog meat trade, ban the online transmission of animal cruelty images and videos and end animal performances. All of this is very promising, and we applaud the nation for moving forward on this important path that will benefit both its people and its animals for generations to come.
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