The Washington Post

By: Hannah Knowles

October 23, 2019

Many acts of animal cruelty are closer to becoming federal felonies after the House’s unanimous passage Tuesday of the Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture Act.

If passed by the Senate and enacted, the bill will outlaw purposeful crushing, burning, drowning, suffocation, impalement or other violence causing “serious bodily injury” to animals. Violations could result in a fine as well as up to seven years’ imprisonment.

Advocates say the PACT Act would fill crucial gaps in national law, which only bans animal fighting as well as the making and sharing of videos that show the kind of abuse the PACT Act would criminalize. All states have provisions against animal cruelty, said Kitty Block, president of the Humane Society of the United States, but without a federal ban, it’s hard to prosecute cases that span different jurisdictions or that occur in airports, military bases and other places under federal purview.

“This really is something that should pass,” Block told The Washington Post. “It’s not controversial. It’s what the American people want.”

Holly Gann, director of federal affairs for the Animal Wellness Foundation, said in a statement that most people “are shocked” that the law is not already on the books.

The bipartisan act, introduced by Reps. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.) and Vern Buchanan (R-Fla.), builds on a 2010 law that targets videos depicting animal cruelty, spurred by disgust over a gruesome genre of “crush” videos often showing small critters stomped under a woman’s shoe.

Block says videos capturing such torture needed to be addressed at the federal level because content shared online transcends state boundaries. But no national law targets the acts behind the films — despite previous congressional efforts with widespread support.

The Senate has passed a companion bill to the PACT Act twice, making supporters optimistic that with the House version passed, the measure can sail into law. Advocates point to opposition from recently retired congressman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), a former House Judiciary Committee chairman, as blocking previous attempts to pass the bill in the House. The Post was unable to reach Goodlatte on Wednesday.

The Senate now needs to vote again on its version of the bill, which lists 38 sponsors. Jason Attermann, a spokesman for Deutch, told The Post that PACT Act backers do not anticipate any hang-ups.

“It’s never been the Senate’s fault for this not happening,” he said.

The PACT Act has been cheered not only by animal welfare groups but by many members of law enforcement who want federal tools to — in Deutch’s words — “stop animal abusers who are likely to commit acts of violence against people.” Leaders of groups such as the Fraternal Order of Police and the Major County Sheriffs of America have thrown their weight behind the proposed law.

“And animal lovers everywhere know this is simply the right thing to do,” Deutch said in a statement.

The legislation outlines exemptions for humane euthanasia; slaughter for food; recreational activities such as hunting, trapping and fishing; medical and scientific research; “normal veterinary, agricultural husbandry, or other animal management practice”; and actions that are necessary “to protect the life or property of a person.”