Legislation, other than that which is specifically driven by special interests, doesn’t happen by accident. Trends in the culture are eventually reflected in bills introduced in the Senate and in the House.
So, while people concerned about the abusive training practices in the Tennessee Walking Horse, Spotted Saddle Horses and Racking Horse show contingent have focused on the ins and outs and ups and downs of the PAST Act, they may be unfamiliar with another bill also worthy of notice. Like PAST this second bill is reflective, too, of the nation’s evolving attitudes about animal cruelty and abuse. It has been introduced by a group of senior Republicans and Democrats in the House, some of whom sit on the House Judiciary Committee.
Called the PACT Act ( not to be confused with the PAST Act), Lamar Smith (R-TX), the former House Judiciary Committee chair, and senior Judiciary Committee member Ted Deutsch ( D-FL), along with committee member and former U.S. Attorney Tom Marino (R-PA) and the caucus leader for the Congressional Animal Protection Caucus ( yes, there is such a thing in the halls of government in Washington, DC) Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) took the lead by introducing the nation’s first of its kind federal animal cruelty act. The acronym PACT stands for Prevent Animal Cruelty and Torture Act.
The Sponsors have been joined by others in the House that include staunch conservatives, senior committee members, animal protection leaders, and a second former attorney general: Trent Franks (R-AZ), Steve Chabot (R-OH), Patrick Meehan (R-PA), Jerold Nadler (D-NY) and Steve Cohen (D-TN).
In 2014 The Federal Bureau of Investigation made news when it announced that it would work with local law enforcement to track animal abuse incidents using its Uniform Crime Report. This groundbreaking announcement reflected the recognition of the severity of these crimes and the danger that they pose to public welfare and good order in the nation.
Opponents of legislation like PAST and PACT insist that animal abuse is a victimless crime and should not be prosecuted. What bleeding hearts call “victims”, they assert, are merely animals, property for an owner to do with as he/she pleases. Hence, because there are no victims, there is no crime, and, thus, there should be no statutory enforcement.
This same group of like-minded individuals routinely try to manipulate the national discussion of the evolving realization that animal welfare is a matter of national concern with buzz words like “ driven by radical animal rights activists”. This is a phrase that is guaranteed to bring support from their base and donations to lobby groups like The Cavalry Group and Humanewatch and its many associated activities including lobbying efforts for factory farming concerns and puppy mill operators.
A hatred and suspicion of all statutory enforcement and of federal regulation is endemic to cock fighters, dog fighters, puppy mill operators, and to trainers who sore horses and the people who ride sore horses. This is part of the toxicity that allows them to believe that the pain animals suffer, pain that is intentionally inflicted for performance or the result of neglect driven by making a dollar at the least possible cost, is part, not only of doing business but also is their right as owners.
For example, the owner of a performance walking horse, when confronted directly by his daughter about the abusive training practices required to put his horse into the show ring, responded in text book manner for the people who believe in victimless crimes. He said: “ Everyone has to work. I have to work for what I have. This (the chemicals and package and action devices) are what this horse has to do to earn his oats. " (Now, how do you argue with that? You can change behavior through law but changing attitudes is a much more difficult task. )
Presently there is no federal anti-cruelty statute on the books. The federal government has, over the years, slowly evolved to help complement the states that have laws that forbid animal cruelty by creating companion federal statutes. Meanwhile, the mood of the majority of the citizens of the country concerning animal abuse and animal welfare continues to evolve. The FBI’s entrance into the fray, through collecting information on animal abuse incidents, will help law enforcement combat these offenses by prioritizing their resources and being able to identify regional patterns of abuse.
In the mid-1980s when the HSUS first began its drive to make malicious animal cruelty a felony in all 50 states, only four states had such laws on the books. Slowly that number has grown and thanks in large part to the successful prosecution of Jackie McConnell, abuse of horses can now be prosecuted as a felony in the state of Tennessee. While there is improvement by the states on this issue, a patchwork of state laws can be bolstered by a strong federal statute as proposed by this bi-partisan group of lawmakers in the House.
As an example, an existing federal law prohibits the trade in animal “crush videos”, similar to the “snuff videos” that have been produced by pornographers. In “crush videos” animals are killed during filming ; the problem is that there is no penalty for the acts of abuse which underpin this obscenity if no video is actually created.
The PACT Act would allow for federal prosecution of anyone who would intentionally drown, suffocate, or otherwise heinously abuse their animals. It fills the gap between the existing statutes and the rest of what is needed for full enforcement against animal abuse. The parallel between what PACT would do for existing federal animal abuse statutes and what PAST would do in amending the existing Horse Protection Act is clear—strong federal action, including the option for felony prosecution, is needed to stop behavior that results in abusive practices to animals driven by the attitude that animals are simply property.
Like PAST, PACT would fortify the existing legal framework. In the case of PACT, if state prosecutors lack the reach, the ability, or the will to stop animal cruelty, then federal prosecutors would have the ability to intervene. This would be especially helpful when abusive activity involves several states or crosses state lines. Remember that the Horse Protection Act began its life as an interstate commerce bill and that transporting a sore horse remains an essential part of the law. When there’s a will, a way must be found.
Over 90 federal crimes are overseen by the FBI. These include crimes like credit card fraud, bank robbery, human trafficking and sports bribery; but, that authority does not currently extend to the pursuit of extreme acts of animal cruelty. It doesn’t but it should. If PACT becomes law, the FBI and U.S. Attorneys will be able to pursue animal abusers.
Although the PAST Act has not yet been reintroduced in the House, it will be. In the Senate, S.1121 ( the PAST Act) now has 32 sponsors and co-sponsors. When it's time to call your legislators in the House urging that they support the PAST Act, a good word, too, should be put in for PACT (and because of the similarity of the names of the two bills, please be sure that they know that there are two pieces of legislation to be considered here).
The seminal ideas between the two pieces of proposed legislation are clear: people who engage in malicious acts of cruelty are a threat to society; they willingly and knowingly and with intention disobey the law; they harm defenseless creatures. In so doing they create, at the least, a personal callousness and, at the worst, a brutality that dehumanizes, allowing a person to willingly inflict pain on another sentient but helpless being under his or her control. Animals shouldn't have to suffer as the "price of earning their oats".
Evidence shows that animal abuse by such people can escalate into other forms of violent criminal activity. When crimes of extreme animal abuse are discovered, those who committed the acts must be held accountable. If a state fails to act or does not have the legal framework to do so, the federal government must have the power to intervene.
PACT and PAST are both public benefit pieces of legislation. Both will need your help in the days ahead and both are worthy of your support.