Americans are politically divided and riven by cultural conflicts that are enough to make them forget they’re all part of one people. But when it comes to nonhuman creatures, the divisions melt away. In red states and blue states alike, attitudes at the dog park, the pet supply shop or the aquarium tend to be unified — and passionate.
Pretty much everyone loves animals and wants to keep them from being abused. The most disliked player in the NFL, according to a 2013 Forbes poll? Michael Vick, and not because of anything he did on the gridiron.
Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill have taken this phenomenon to heart. A raft of proposed legislation aimed at improving the welfare of animals has drawn support on both sides of the aisle. In fact, more than 120 members have joined a group that once would have sounded like the punch line to a joke: the Congressional Animal Protection Caucus.
Its new co-chairman, Republican Rep. Vern Buchanan of Florida, was honored as the 2015 “legislator of the year” by The Humane Society of the United States. The caucus annually participates in the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals’ “Paws for Love” and “Paws for Celebration” events recognizing the work of animal rescue and shelter facilities. Not many politicians are afraid of being seen as too cozy with critters.
The caucus also serves as a base of support for legislation. Among the many measures introduced this year and backed by HSUS is a bill to update the federal Horse Protection Act by banning methods involved in a cruel practice known as “soring.” It relies on chemicals, mechanical devices and other means to cause pain in the hooves of Tennessee walking horses, producing a high-stepping gait. The Pet and Women Safety Act would offer grants to domestic violence shelters that let abused women bring their pets. Both bills have already attracted more than half the members of the House as co-sponsors, a tribute to how uncontroversial such efforts have become.
Other proposals deserve the same breadth of support. Bills have been introduced to outlaw the use of animals for cosmetic testing, which inflicts misery on them for an obsolete purpose. It is already forbidden in the European Union, India, Israel, Norway and other countries, and personal beauty standards don’t seem to have collapsed.
And the Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act would make it illegal to buy and sell shark fins, a measure meant to take aim at the already-illegal practice of severing shark fins and discarding the sharks to die — an idea that has won support even from some people who survived shark attacks.
The Big Cat Public Safety Act would prohibit possession of lions, tigers, leopards and the like by private individuals — like the one in Zanesville, Ohio, whose 38 big cats ended up roaming free in 2011, prompting the closing of schools and forcing police to shoot most of the animals. Anyone want to live on a block where someone is housing a 500-pound Bengal tiger? We didn’t think so.
There will always be disagreements on where to draw the line between justifiable use of animals and unconscionable exploitation. But proposals like these are a testament to the growing awareness of the legitimate needs of animals and the importance of protecting them. Legislation is needed because often, it’s humans who are beastly.