Why most instances of animal cruelty aren’t a federal crime, I will never understand. It makes me physically and emotionally sick even typing this out as you are reading this. However, on Tuesday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill that will soon change that.
The Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture Act (PACT) bans abusive behavior including crashing, burning, drowning, suffocating, impaling, and other bodily injury toward any non-humans. Introduced by Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL) and Vern Buchanan (R-FL) back in January, the bill was finally approved Tuesday by a voice vote.
Legally, it’s not a crime to engage in animal abuse, at least on a federal level. Fucked up right? Yet, every state has its own law and/or regulation speaking to animal cruelty, but the problem has remained on the federal level. Why?
It’s very difficult to prosecute cases that span across different jurisdictions, or that occur on or in federal properties such as airports, military bases, and other places under federal purview. Plus, add cyberspace into that realm, where individuals resort to video-capturing technology to film/stream the horrifying conduct, knowing they can avoid falling under legal purview.
It is for this reason that videos capturing such conduct need to be addressed at the federal level, because as we are learning first-hand, content shared online transcends state boundaries. And previous congressional efforts haven’t succeeded until now.
The PACT Act
The PACT Act expands the current Animal Crush Video Prohibition Act, which was passed by Congress in 2010, and made the creation and distribution of animal crushing videos illegal. However, the biggest issue with the legislation was a loophole that allowed for underlying acts of animal abuse.
Specifically, there is almost no accountability or legal remedy to hold perpetrators accountable unless an obscene video has been produced. The PACT Act would close this loophole, making it a federal for “any person to intentionally engage in animal crushing if the animals or animal crushing is in, substantially affects, or uses a means or facility of, interstate or foreign commerce,” according to a fact sheet of the bill.
The act is limited to interstate commerce and federal property and would not interfere with local animal cruelty laws or enforcement.
“Today’s vote is a significant milestone in the bipartisan quest to end animal abuse and protect our pets,” Deutch said in a written statement.
“This bill sends a clear message that our society does not accept cruelty against animals. We’ve received support from so many Americans from across the country and across the political spectrum. Animal rights activists have stood up for living things that do not have a voice.”
This bill has received a tremendous amount of support, most notably from Sara Amundson, the president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund (HSLF).
“Over the course of 30 years in animal protection, I have encountered terrible animal cruelties, but acts of intentional torture are the most disturbing because they demonstrate how some people treat the most vulnerable in our society,” Amundson said in a statement.
“These malicious acts deserve federal scrutiny and action. Federal prosecutors and law enforcement officials will finally have the tools they need to bring those responsible for cruelty to animals to justice.”
This bill is supported by the National Sheriffs’ Association, the Fraternal Order of Police, the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, the National Children’s Advocacy Center, and Domestic Violence Intervention Services, Inc., and more than 100 law enforcement agencies across the country.
In July, the HSLF hosted an event on Capitol Hill where it was joined by the bill’s sponsors, several rescue dogs and an extraordinary high school student from Potomac, Maryland, named Sydney Helfand, who started a petition at Change.org to pass the PACT Act. According to Amundson, the petition gathered more than 650,000 signatures, illustrating the wide support this issue enjoys among members of the public, including young people, and the momentum behind passing this bill.
“Passing the PACT Act sends a strong message that this behavior will not be tolerated,” Buchanan said. “Protecting animals from cruelty is a top priority for me and I will continue to work with Congressman Deutch to get this important bill signed into law.”
The bill still needs to make its way through the Senate, but I don’t foresee any significant issues, as the Senate currently has 38 sponsors listed on its own version of the bill.