Online tool reveals lawmakers’ stance on equine welfare

A new online tool is enabling US voters to see at a glance how their government representatives have acted on legislation surrounding animal welfare issues.

The Congressional Accountability Tool (CAT), a digital advocacy platform, was launched this week by Animal Wellness Action (Action), a new 501(c)(4) organization promoting legal standards against cruelty. Issues under scrutiny include the slaughter of horses (including wild mustangs and burros) for human consumption, horse soring, opening up national wildlife refuges and national preserves in Alaska to aerial hunting of bears, cracking down on staged animal fights in US territories, and adopting the nation’s first-ever anti-cruelty statute.

The CAT is a voter-centric tool that allows users to examine a detailed set of summaries on animal issues after inputting a zip code or selecting the name of the lawmaker. The information is assembled in two data clusters: 1) their records for the 115th Congress (from January 2017 to present) and 2) for much or all of their Congressional careers. The data visualization firm Periscopic, along with Animal Wellness Action creative director Michael Prieve, designed the tool.

Animal Wellness Action looked only at matters that attracted substantial Congressional debate and support and that animal protection groups considered important policy issues. While lawmakers have introduced more than 50 animal welfare bills in the 115th Congress, the CAT includes the 10 or so issues that had a critical mass of support and that offered the prospect of meaningful reform by being approved in both chambers.

There are five House bills (e.g., a ban on shark finning and a crackdown on the practice of “horse soring”) that a majority of House members have publicly signed onto as cosponsors. But Republican leaders are catering to a handful of bill opponents and not bringing up these bills for votes, denying the full House an opportunity to adopt an enormously popular set of reforms.

Senate leaders did bring up one of them, the Prevent Animal Cruelty and Torture Act (PACT), last December and it passed by unanimous consent. The House bill has 282 cosponsors, but the Judiciary Committee chairman has blocked it, even though more than half of the members of the committee are cosponsors of the bill. But Republican leaders can turn this situation around by allowing votes on this and other broadly supported issues in September before they leave Washington to focus on the mid-term elections.

For the measure of performance on animal issues over a larger span of the lawmakers’ careers, Animal Wellness Action selected the most important votes over the last 15 years, including votes on stopping the slaughter of cows too sick or injured to walk, establishing a national policy to include pets and the people who care about them when disasters strike, and the slaughter of horses for human consumption.

The information presented in the CAT reveals that Democrats have performed dramatically better than Republicans. In both the House and Senate, there were 130 Democrats in Congress with perfect scores, but only two Republicans – Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Penn, and Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y. That said, every major effort to help or defend animals, except the effort to defeat the predator-killing resolutions on wildlife refuges and national preserves, had some meaningful Republican support, including the PACT Act with 100 Republican cosponsors. Republicans co-led all of the bills.

“Animal cruelty is a vice, and all people of conscience should oppose the needless harming and torturing of animals,” said Marty Irby, executive director of Animal Wellness Action.

“The Congressional Accountability Tool is the most accessible and user-friendly tool ever developed to allow voters to understand how lawmakers are performing on animal issues. I hope that lawmakers and citizens pay close attention to it, think of it as a living document, and strive to do more to help animals, which, at the end of the day, is really about helping all of us.”