Americans love animals. Over half of all American families own pets, and we overwhelmingly believe in protecting animals from cruelty and suffering. Yet too many of the businesses that provide Americans with their beloved companions perpetuate inhumane practices against dogs and cats, and I’m certain that even those who enjoy meat and animal products would be horrified by the conditions to which many livestock animals are subjected. When it comes to protecting animals under the law, we still have a ways to go.
Puppy mills represent one of the most glaring examples of animal cruelty in the commercial pet industry. Many puppy mills are run by breeders who sell online, and are not required by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to obtain a license or undergo inspections. These facilities promote animal abuse, often on a large scale, by keeping dogs in substandard conditions to minimize costs.
At mills, puppies are often kept in cramped and unhygienic cages and denied adequate food, water, and veterinary care. These puppies are separated from their mothers early and not socialized with humans, leading to trauma and behavioral troubles. Irresponsible breeding practices result in generations of dogs with genetic health problems, and puppies with obvious defects that would make them unsalable are often killed, as are breeding dogs that can no longer produce litters. The impact of these mills is felt not just by the puppies raised in them, but by the millions of animals in shelters and on the streets across the United States, as the commoditization of animals by puppy mills also contributes to overpopulation.
I’ve heard from many constituents and animal advocacy groups about the horrific abuses that go on in puppy mills, and that’s why I am a proud cosponsor of the Puppy Uniform Protection and Safety (PUPS) Act. Reintroduced to the House this February, the PUPS Act closes the loopholes that allow online dog breeders to skirt USDA licensing and inspection requirements. Passing this bill would be an important step towards exposing and cleaning up the dark underbelly of the commercial pet industry.
Domestic animals aren’t the only ones who need more protections. This month, I plan to reintroduce the Transparency for Lethal Control (TLC) Act, which would require the USDA to release data on animals killed by Wildlife Services. Sometimes, a wild animal becomes a serious threat to humans or the ecosystem, and killing it is the only option. However, Wildlife Services currently undertakes thousands of these killings with next to no oversight or accountability. In San Diego, this includes bobcats, foxes, mountain lions, and other iconic Californian creatures. In order to ensure that the USDA is using its resources efficiently and appropriately, Congress and the public must have access to information about where, why, how, and which animals are being killed.
Even those who are not moved by a love of animals should care about animal cruelty. A wealth of scientific evidence suggests that violence against animals is tied to violence against humans. Studies have shown that those who abuse animals as children often go on to act violently towards other people, and perpetrators of domestic abuse are also likely to abuse family pets. Additionally, organized animal abuse such as dog fighting is frequently tied to other criminal activity, including illegal gambling, drug, and weapons possession. Given the links between violence towards animals and other aggressive and destructive behaviors, in addition to the suffering of the animals themselves, animal cruelty cannot be tolerated.
Animal welfare has always been an issue close to my heart. I believe that, as a society, we have a responsibility to protect our most vulnerable members. I know that my constituents care about this subject, as well. Throughout my years in Congress, animal welfare has consistently been one of the top issues on which my constituents have written to me.
During this session, Congress will have the opportunity to consider several bills to enhance protections for animal welfare. I hope that my colleagues will keep in mind not only their constituents, but also all of the cherished pets and majestic wildlife in their districts, as they consider this legislation. Let’s stand up for those who cannot speak for themselves, and work to ensure humane treatment for all creatures.
This piece originally appeared in The Hill.