(ANIMAL RIGHTS) UNITED STATES — Here’s something positive for animal lovers to reflect on: In the last 20 years, there have been at least 1,000 new animal protection laws enacted. Plus, these statutes are in addition to the federal laws aimed at preventing animal cruelty and animal abuse. So, though it may seem stagnant at times, and there are definite setbacks, too, the general trend in animal welfare is decidedly upward. Read on for inspiration to keep taking action on behalf of animals. It makes a difference! — Global Animal

A ban on trophy hunting of California mountain lions in 1990 encouraged other animal advocates to take action. Photo credit: Joan Embery

Humane Society Legislative Fund, Michael Markarian

This morning I spoke to a group of animal welfare advocates from around the world gathered in Orlando, Fla., for The HSUS’s 20th anniversary Animal Care Expo, the largest trade show for animal care and sheltering professionals. Several leaders in the field looked back over two decades and reported on progress that has been made for animal welfare. I offered some observations on the advances for animal protection legislation over the past 20 years.

Throughout a large part of the twentieth century, few animal welfare groups focused on state policy, and fewer still on national policy. Nonetheless, there were several ballot initiatives dealing with vivisection, rodeo, moose hunting, steel-jawed leghold traps, and veal crates, with voters rejecting most of the measures. Only one of them passed—a 1972 measure in South Dakota to ban dove hunting—but voters reversed the dove hunting ban eight years later.

In 1988, the California Fish and Game Commission voted to institute a mountain lion hunting season. Animal protection advocates sued the state to delay the onset of the hunting. Concomitantly, they launched and qualified an initiative—with volunteers amassing in excess of 600,000 signatures—to ban any trophy hunting of lions. In June 1990, voters approved the measure, and its passage sparked renewed interest in the initiative process by animal protection advocates.

Since 1990, HSUS and its affiliates (The Fund for Animals, Doris Day Animal League, and HSLF) have been involved in 42 statewide ballot campaigns, and have won 30, for a 72% win rate, one of the highest of any social movement. During the past 20 years, when voters have been asked to weigh in on animal protection policies, time and time again they have sided with animals: five states have banned cruel traps, four states have banned hound hunting and bear baiting; three states have banned cockfighting; three states have banned the confinement of farm animals; and states have taken action on horse slaughter, greyhound racing, puppy mills, and other subjects.

With citizens directly voting in favor of animal protection reforms at the ballot box, it has sent a message to lawmakers that there is widespread and bipartisan support for these policies, and has helped to provide support for additional laws passed through representative government. Consider the dramatic changes in just 20 years:

  • In 1991 only seven states had felony-level penalties for animal cruelty (California, Florida, Massachusetts, Michigan, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, and Wisconsin). Today, 47 states have felony animal cruelty laws, with Mississippi’s cruelty law enacted just last week and only North Dakota, South Dakota, and Idaho now remaining as outliers.
  • In 1991 only 14 states considered dogfighting a felony offense. Today, all 50 states make it a felony, and we have a national policy on the issue.
  • In 1991 five states allowed legal cockfighting (Arizona, Louisiana, Missouri, New Mexico, and Oklahoma), and of the 45 that banned it, only 13 had felony penalties. Today, cockfighting is banned in all 50 states, and a felony in 39.
  • In 1991 there were virtually no restrictions on standard agricultural practices. Today seven states have banned or are phasing out the extreme confinement of farm animals in crates or cages.
  • In 1991 only 17 states had some licensing and regulation of large-scale commercial dog breeders. Today, the laws in many states have been strengthened, and 31 states now have laws in place to crack down on puppy mills.
  • In 1991 virtually no state laws required disaster plans to include animals, yet post-Katrina 16 states passed laws to protect animals in disasters, and the Congress passed a national policy on the subject.
Federal laws protect military and law enforcement dogs, big cats, pets in air travel, and many others. Photo credit: Jeremy Deal

All in all, with an average of 50 new laws for animals passed in the states each year, we estimate there have been at least 1,000 new statutes for animal protection enacted since 1991. Add to that the federal laws on animal crush videos, fur labeling, shark finning, big cats as pets, chimpanzee sanctuaries, pet food safety, animal fighting, dog and cat fur, alternatives to animal testing, pets in air travel, military and law enforcement dogs, puppy mill imports, banning USDA inspections of horse slaughter, and so many other successes, and the past two decades have been an unprecedented era of lawmaking for animal protection.

With new innovations over the last 20 years, there have been new issues to confront. Who ever thought, for example, that the Internet would be used to allow people to shoot animals at canned hunts remotely with the click of a mouse or the stroke of a keyboard? Now, 40 states have taken action to ban Internet hunting. And with the progress made on animal protection issues around the country, our opponents are fighting back with new tactics of their own—such as the “Ag Gag” laws proposed in Florida, Iowa, and Minnesota to ban journalists and whistleblowers from reporting on factory farm abuses.

Whatever the challenges of the coming decades, and whatever new issues emerge, we will be prepared to continue the fight for animal protection. But today we look back and celebrate the progress of the last 20 years and the public policies that have prevented so much cruelty and abuse.

More HSLF: http://hslf.typepad.com/political_animal/2011/05/20-years-of-advances-for-animals.html