paw it forward
Last month, I promised to share some more “strides forward” in animal welfare laws that took place over the past year. So, here goes.
In April 2022, the Wildlife Conservation and Public Safety Act — “Roxy’s Law” — went into effect in New Mexico. Roxy was a sweet senior cattle dog who was hiking with her family at Santa Cruz Lake in 2018 when she stepped into a snare trap. The family tried but could not release the trap from around Roxy’s neck. She died right in front of them.
After the story became public, Animal Protection of New Mexico reported, “decades worth of similar stories poured in” about pets and people being hurt or killed while walking and hiking in New Mexico. APNM worked tirelessly to craft and promote “Roxy’s Law,” which prohibits the setting of traps, snares and poisons on the 32 million acres of public lands across the state for the purposes of capturing, injuring or killing an animal. The law passed in 2021 and went into effect on April 1.
APNM celebrated another victory last year when the Humane Society of the United States and the Humane Society Legislative Fund won a lawsuit against the National Institutes of Health for disobeying the CHIMP Act of 2000. The act established a national sanctuary system for chimpanzees formerly used in research facilities. The NIH stopped testing on chimpanzees in 2015, and was supposed to release all the chimps to sanctuaries but has failed to do so.
Thirty chimps are still housed in the laboratory at Holloman AFB in Alamogordo, where they’ve lived and died for decades as test subjects. Ten chimps have died there since 2019, far sooner than their normal life expectancies.
The NIH is now mandated to release the chimps and stakeholders are waiting for the U.S. Supreme Court to determine how the NIH must proceed.
On Dec. 20, 2022, the Big Cat Public Safety Act was signed into law by President Joe Biden, addressing a “reckless cruelty that has festered for years.” (Sara Amundson, Animal Legal Defense Fund.)
Many animal welfare organizations worked toward the passage of this law, which prohibits private citizens from owning lions, tigers, cheetahs, jaguars, cougars and any hybrid of these species. It further prohibits direct contact between big cats and the public in (now illegal) venues like roadside “petting zoos” and photo ops.
The “reckless cruelty” involves the way these cats are used and abused in captive breeding, trafficking, trade and commercial use. Cubs taken from their mothers at just days old so people can pet and pose with them in photos quickly get “too big” and are “disposed of,” ending up caged in backyards or basements, sold to black market traffickers, killed or just left to die.
Public safety concerns involve escapes (like the 2011 incident in Zanesville, Ohio) and attacks. The law exempts legitimate zoos and sanctuaries, focusing instead on private citizens who want to own big cats.
Current owners are grandfathered in but must register their animals so that first responders and animal control officers are aware of their presence in the community. Interestingly, similar legislation was recently enacted in Ukraine. Apparently folks there also liked sharing their couches with tigers!
On Nov. 15, 2022, a bill amending the weak and outdated Horse Protection Act of 1970 passed the house by a vote of 304-111. The PAST Act, Prevent All Soring Tactics, has been tirelessly pursued by animal welfare organizations since 2012.
Soring is the practice of intentionally harming a horse’s legs and hooves using everything from kerosene to spikes to chains. When the horse performs in shows, the pain of walking on their tortured feet causes them to step high — a motion called the “big lick” that horse enthusiasts think looks cool and pay lots of money for.
The original Horse Protection Act called soring tactics “cruel and inhumane,” but, sadly, the USDA has done virtually nothing to stop it; their appointed agents mostly turning a blind eye in favor of the owners and trainers who do it.
The House approved the PAST Act in 2019, but the Senate failed to take action. It is strongly hoped that this time the Senate will vote for this long overdue reform.
Of course laws are only as good as the people who abide by them, and by our capacity to uphold and enforce them. At the end of his visit in the movie I described last month, St. Nickolas bestows this blessing — “May the new year find ye all treading the paths of obedience, wisdom and love.” I’ll second that.
(Colleen Dougherty’s history in animal welfare includes work in a veterinary clinic, shelters in Santa Fe and Albuquerque, and currently as a volunteer for the Valencia County Animal Shelter. She has been a speaker at the N.M. State Humane Conference, presenting talks on caring for small mammals in the shelter setting, and compassion fatigue in animal welfare. She holds degrees in art and counseling therapy, and certificates in eco-psychology and feline massage therapy.)