Protecting animals: A humane and bipartisan effort

Many important and urgent matters come before the U.S. Senate. But beyond those mega-issues — our budget woes, energy independence, national security concerns — other very important issues often fly under the radar. One of those issues is the well-being of animals.

I’ve been asked before how a conservative senator from Louisiana became a leader on the health and well-being of animals.

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It’s really a pretty simple story — and it underscores the fact that animal-safety issues aren’t partisan or ideological.

For me, it has a lot to do with our family adopting a dog from a local animal shelter a few years back. Elle was orphaned in the greater New Orleans area a few years after Hurricane Katrina hit and eventually found her way to a shelter. I immediately experienced firsthand the benefits that rescue shelters can have for the animals they protect and for the families who adopt those animals. Our family was not only pleased to be able to help a needy animal find a loving home, we were genuinely enriched in the process. 

Elle helped me see more clearly the importance of pets to so many families. That’s why I was so disheartened by a Department of Agriculture inspector general report in 2010 that exposed the inhumane treatment of dogs. Unscrupulous puppy mills were exploiting loopholes in the law that allowed puppies to be sold “sight unseen” to buyers over the Internet. This practice led to animal abuse and additional long-term health problems for the animals.

To address these problems, I joined with Sen. Dick Durbin  (D-Ill.) to introduce the Puppy Uniform Protection and Safety (PUPS) Act. This bill would close those loopholes and ensure that breeding dogs are treated humanely, among other improvements.

Additionally, many of the issues important to animal safety are also important to the health and well-being of people. One example of this is the situation addressed by the Captive Primate Safety Act, a bill I have sponsored with Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.). Our bill would ban commerce of primates as pets. This change would ensure that primates are treated humanely, as most people are not properly trained to handle and care for primates. And it will also help prevent horrifying primate attacks that can easily happen out of the blue when people falsely think they are tame and safe as household pets.

Last year, I was honored to be named the Senator of the Year by the Humane Society of the United States. I expect this award is rare for a conservative Republican. But again, promoting the well-being of animals transcends partisanship and ideology.

From ensuring that our pets are treated humanely to ensuring that we are protected from primate attacks, I know that these issues can be advanced with strong bipartisan support.

Animal safety shouldn’t just fly under the radar. It should be promoted and discussed more broadly, and in a consensus-building, nonpartisan way. That’s certainly my goal in my work to ensure that these policies find strong support in the Senate.

Vitter is a Republican senator for Louisiana.