The news stories and photos from a Berrien County, Ga., puppy mill are half past maddening: In recent days, authorities have removed more than 700 dogs from the wretched facility. Rescuers reported that the dogs had been living in tiny crates stacked one atop another. Many of the canines were unwashed and covered in feces and were never exercised.
Georgia authorities arrested the breeder, who faces criminal charges. But as anyone who monitors these cruelty cases knows too well, the next horrific one will erupt soon. And the one after that. And …
At times these days, it feels as though Americans can’t agree on anything. But cruelty to animals is one topic that unifies young and old, all races, Republicans and Democrats, red counties and blue cities, and even humans and other creatures. All 50 states make it illegal and treat some offenses as felonies. Most Americans can’t bear to see animals abused or neglected, and that powerful sentiment has led to valuable protections for our fellow inhabitants.
Congress has generally deferred to the states to punish this sort of conduct, with some exceptions. In 2010, in response to public disgust for videos showing dog fights or the sadistic torture and killing of animals, Congress passed the Animal Crush Video Prohibition Act to outlaw such recordings. An earlier ban, struck down by the Supreme Court, “almost immediately dried up the crush video industry,” according to Wayne Pacelle, then president of the Humane Society of the United States.
The law is deficient in one notable way: Though it bans videos of such cruelty, it doesn’t ban the cruelty itself. That’s one reason Congress is considering a bill called the Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture Act (PACT). State laws may not apply when abuse occurs on federal property, such as national parks and military bases, and this reform would close that loophole.
It would also allow the feds to go after anyone who facilitates bestiality by trafficking animals for that vile purpose in interstate channels. “Craigslist,” reports the Humane Society Legislative Fund, “has numerous ads from people soliciting or offering animals for sex, often to be transported across state lines.”
The bill wouldn’t deprive the states of their primary responsibility for policing animal cruelty. But it would allow the U.S. Department of Justice to step in if local prosecutors drop the ball or plead that they’re too busy with other crimes.
With Congress divided between a Democratic House and a Republican Senate, you might figure there is little chance of action. In fact, a version of this legislation passed the Senate unanimously in 2017, and the House companion bill attracted 283 co-sponsors. It died in the House only because it was bottled up by then-Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va. But with Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., a supporter, now in charge, the bill has brighter prospects.
It would provide a crucial extra layer of protection for creatures that cannot speak up for themselves. Americans are virtually unanimous in rejecting the needless abuse of animals. Our laws should leave it no safe harbor. Pass PACT.
— CHICAGO TRIBUNE