Opinion: There’s Unfinished Business on Animal Welfare Legislation

Animal Welfare
Unsplash.com photo by Jametlene Reskp.

It is already clear that the 2021 Maryland legislative session will be like none other: Our session opened with plexiglass and protocols, increased security and innumerable Zoom calls. Understandably and properly, too, our legislative leaders and Gov. Larry Hogan have moved with urgency to address critical issues like evictions and economic support for struggling Marylanders.

Other business awaits their attention, too, including the strong animal protection agenda that legislators were considering when the 2020 session came to a premature end.

That unfinished agenda includes legislation that was moving forward with bipartisan support, including bills to ban cruel wildlife killing contests (SB200/HB293), end the use of animals in cosmetic testing (SB282/HB611), and require that dogs left unattended in extreme weather have adequate shelter (SB122/HB81).

There is also a cost-of-care bill that would require individuals charged with cruelty or neglect to shoulder the financial responsibility for providing care for their seized animals. A strong law of this kind will save Maryland taxpayers money while placing responsibility for the care of animal victims on the perpetrators of cruelty, suffering and abuse.

The consideration and approval of these four bills will take no time or energy away from priority reforms associated with the pandemic. These bills have been debated and amended, and they moved in the previous session. They are ripe for passage. What is more, animal welfare legislation has bipartisan support.

In 2020, the bill to end cosmetic testing on animals passed the Senate with unanimous support before time ran out in the House of Delegates. Sen. Ben Kramer, a Democrat from Montgomery County, is leading the fight to end the sale of dogs and cats bred in cruel puppy mills while Sen. Bryan Simonaire, the recently elected minority leader, has pre-filed bills such as the Pets for Vets Act, to eliminate adoption fees when veterans adopt a shelter animal. The Cost of Animal Care bill is another case in point, as its sponsors include legislators who bridge the political spectrum and the geography of our state, specifically Del. David Moon, a Democrat from Montgomery County, and Sen. Justin Ready, a Republican from Carroll County.

COVID-19 has reminded us of the deep connections between animal welfare and human interests. Time and again — as with avian influenza, swine flu, Ebola, mad cow disease and SARS — we can trace the origins of a number of human health emergencies to reckless and unwise uses or exploitation of animals.

Whatever good we can accomplish by improving the treatment of animals in our midst will help to set the stage for heightened awareness and commitment to address animal-related practices that produce such risks and threats for us all.

The pandemic has also shown more clearly how frequently humans and animals end up in the same boat. Our animal shelter partners around the state have worked harder than ever before this past year to respond to the exponential increase in people’s pleas for assistance with food, medical services and other acute needs.

Even now, many are working to help families facing eviction keep their beloved pets with them or arrange for temporary shelter. When legislators take up eviction reform this session, they would do well to include policies that will specifically assist pet owners and their animals.

We need not choose between human and animal interests, even in the midst of difficulties. They are complementary concerns, and our public policy progress in both areas is mutually reinforcing. Let us prove that as often as we can in the year ahead.

— JENNIFER BEVAN-DANGEL AND LISA RADOV

The writers are, respectively, the Maryland state director for the Humane Society of the United States, and president and chairman of Maryland Votes For Animals Inc. The Humane Society of the United States is the nation’s most effective animal protection organization, fighting for all animals for more than 60 years. Founded in 2009, Maryland Votes for Animals works with advocates, organizations and legislators to pass humane legislation that will improve the lives of animals in Maryland.