Updated: Dec 18, 2022
By WAYNE PACELLE
SPECIAL TO HARTFORD COURANT |
NOV 15, 2019 | 6:00 AM
SEN. RICHARD BLUMENTHAL (D-CT) SPEAKS TO REPORTERS IN THE SENATE BASEMENT BEFORE A WEEKLY POLICY LUNCHEON ON APRIL 2, 2019 IN WASHINGTON, DC. (ZACH GIBSON/GETTY)
It seems often that Washington, D.C., is not a single city, but two different planets. Depending on your political orientation, impeachment is a long overdue redress of presidential misconduct or it’s a calculated attempt to overturn a national election. Tax cuts are a giveaway to the wealthiest families and business or a jump-start to the economy. Background checks are a sensible way to prevent shooting sprees or a first attempt to disarm the nation.
But there is less-noticed story arc coming out of Washington: Congress gets a few things done, and there are still some examples of shared values in our nation. One of those areas has been animal welfare. And U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut has been in the forefront of this effort.
Since his election in 2010, he’s been the single most important and successful legislative architect of creating and upgrading our federal anti-cruelty laws. His latest success came last week, when he teamed up with U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Penn., to pass the Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture (PACT) Act, which establishes a federal anti-cruelty law for the first time in our republic’s history.
On its way to the president for signing, the PACT Act builds on a 2010 statute that bars the sale of videos showing illegal acts of animal cruelty. Specifically, PACT would make it a federal crime to torture an animal in cases where acts of intentional cruelty affect interstate or foreign commerce, on federal property, or “in the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States.” It also makes it a federal crime to engage in sexual exploitation of animals; Hawaii, New Mexico, West Virginia and Wyoming have no laws banning bestiality.
In the last five years, he’s also led efforts to pass two upgrades of our federal law against animal fighting. Last December, with Senators Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, he succeeded in adding an anti-animal fighting amendment to the Farm Bill — in that case, to apply all prohibitions against cockfighting and dogfighting to the U.S. territories (American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Marianas, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands).
Just two weeks ago, a U.S. District Court in Puerto Rico affirmed that the law does ban cockfighting in all five U.S. territories, none of which have enacted territorial bans on the blood sport. There are 71 cockfighting arenas operating in Puerto Rico alone, and there are dozens in the other territories. That means that Blumenthal’s upgrade of the law is one of the most consequential animal protection laws passed in recent decades. The federal animal fighting law takes full effect on December 20, and the territories are obligated under the law to stop raising tens of thousands of fighting birds and shutter dozens of fighting arenas.
Five years earlier, Blumenthal was the author of a bill to make it a federal crime to attend or bring a minor to a dogfight or cockfight. This legislation allows the federal government to crack down on the entire cast of characters involved, since spectators represent the vast majority of people at these spectacles. It’s their participation that fuels the industry and makes it profitable.
If you think animal fighting is a settled matter, just look at Monterey County, Calif. A grand jury there recently determined that there are 1,000 backyard cockfighting operations in that jurisdiction alone. Indeed, if you drive around rural reaches of the United States, you’ll see large colonies of roosters tied to A-frame huts or to barrels; these are birds raised for cockfighting. There are millions of birds now being raised for fighting in the U.S. Two million, 5 million, 25 million? Nobody quite knows, but it’s happening on a quasi-agricultural scale.
We cannot hope to break down malicious cruelty and organized animal fighting syndicates without a strong legal framework forbidding that conduct. Laws against animal cruelty are, in the best case, essential antecedents to enforcement of them.
We are most grateful to Senator Blumenthal for leading the national fight against animal cruelty. He knows that cruelty to animals is wrong, and it’s typically tangled up with other forms of violent social behavior in our communities.
Wayne Pacelle, a native of New Haven and a graduate of Yale, is the founder of Animal Wellness Action and the author of The Bond and The Humane Economy, both New York Times bestsellers.