By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block
Last night at our Humane Awards event on Capitol Hill, we celebrated the work of lawmakers whose dedication to our cause made 2022 a banner congressional year for animals. In particular, we recognized the passage into law of the Big Cat Public Safety Act, and the lawmakers who led it. This was a seminal accomplishment in the history of animal protection, one that took more than a decade to achieve.
The Big Cat Public Safety Act bans both public contact with big cats and keeping them as pets. It promises to end a tragic era, one of punishing cycles of repetitious breeding to produce cubs, snatching them from their mothers at birth, passing them around endlessly for cub-petting or photo-ops, and finally consigning them to shabby roadside zoos or in the backyards or basements of private owners.
When we started working on this issue, few policymakers had challenged these practices, but we recognized how unethical it is to treat big cats this way. We worked to change both the policy space of this issue and the public perception of it. For years, our cruelty investigators, program specialists, lobbyists and other colleagues gathered the evidence of cruelty at cub-petting and selfie operations all over the country, stoking public awareness of the inherent cruelty of these practices.
No measure can succeed in the U.S. Congress without strong, dedicated and intelligent political leaders, and this was certainly true with the Big Cat Public Safety Act. The Act’s key sponsors masterfully shepherded this measure into law. Our Humane Awards honored the four co-leads of the Big Cat Public Safety Act, along with more than 200 other senators and representatives for their work on other animal measures.
We recognized Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Reps. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., and Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., as Humane Legislators of the Year for rallying their colleagues in support of the Big Cat Public Safety Act and demonstrating principled leadership, bipartisan consensus and a sense of urgency for eradicating practices that demean and mistreat captive wild cats and pose threats to public safety. Their leadership resulted in a campaign that produced a House vote of 278-134 for the bill in July and its passage by unanimous consent in the Senate in December. President Biden signed the bill into law at the end of 2022.
All told, we recognized a bipartisan set of 234 legislators for their support in 2022, 42 senators and 192 representatives encompassing 30 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Northern Mariana Islands. Together, they helped to make 2022 a historic year in our federal policy work. This was especially true for wildlife issues, as we saw not only the Big Cat Public Safety Act, but also the Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act and the Eliminate, Neutralize and Disrupt (END) Wildlife Trafficking Act pass into law as well.
Throughout the 117th Congress, and especially in 2022, our 234 honorees also devoted significant efforts to get bills on issues ranging from horse soring, horse slaughter and puppy mills to animal testing for cosmetics across the finish line. While those measures didn’t pass, they and others have already risen to prominence in the 118th Congress, and they’re certainly priorities for our 2023 federal agenda.
Public policy that helps and protects animals is a crucial element in building a more humane society. This awards ceremony was a heartening reminder that the support of a dedicated group of legislators who understand the urgency of our cause can make all the difference for animals.
Kitty Block is CEO of the Humane Society of the United States.