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Conservatism and animal welfare go hand-in-paw


I was standing at the National Rifle Association booth in the exhibition hall at the 2017 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) this February, firing at electronic targets with a hyper-realistic 45 millimeter update of the Duck Hunt gun, when I dropped the bombshell: “Yeah, actually I’m here with the Humane Society.” I prepared for the worst; to my surprise, the staffer manning the booth practically lit up. “I just adopted a shelter dog!” she exclaimed. And, well, suddenly we were friends.

{mosads}The NRA and The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) sometimes find themselves on opposite ends of an issue. The ongoing debate over the use of unsporting and cruel predator control methods on national wildlife refuges in Alaska is one recent flash point.  But, as all humans are, so many rank-and-file supporters of both groups are bound by a common love of animals. Recently, when I was in South Carolina meeting with HSUS members, more than a few of them mentioned they are also lifelong members of the NRA (though they were appropriately aghast at the gory details of the Alaska program).


Following that surprising moment of D.C. kinship, I kept bracing myself at CPAC for an impact that never came. Instead, I found again and again that people met me and my fellow advocates with welcoming hands, smiles and a general eagerness to hear our side of the story.

I’ve long known animal welfare is consistent with conservatism. The small group from The HSUS attending CPAC with me — Republicans, all, never shrinking from the idea of our collective duty towards animals — believe the same. And though we, like many, were perhaps a bit confounded by the strange, new Republican coalition that stormed Washington in late January, so too were attendees confused how anyone could be opposed to protecting animals from cruelty.

How, indeed?

The truth is — The HSUS is no stranger to highly-charged political battles. We regularly face strong opposition from entrenched industries that profit off the backs of animal abuse. In November, we won two hard-fought ballot measure victories — in Massachusetts and Oklahoma — despite strong opposition from factory farming interests that opposed our efforts.

In Massachusetts, we succeeded in banning the sale of eggs, veal and pork derived from animals kept in extreme confinement. In Oklahoma, we beat back a deceptively-named “Right to Farm” measure that would have deregulated agriculture on a go-forward basis.

But we saw no hostility at CPAC, and as we went from booth to booth, introducing ourselves and explaining our cause, we were heartened to meet friendly folks who found no inconsistency between a love for animals and an adherence to conservative principles.

At one point, as I sat listening to Governors Matt Bevin, Sam Brownback, Doug Ducey and Scott Walker discuss federalism, I felt fortified to hear many of the same arguments that advocates have made for years when it comes to a state’s right to enshrine its own meaningful animal welfare standards. USDA’s recent whitewashing of Animal Welfare Act records and inspection reports effectively invalidated the laws of seven states that prohibit pet stores from sourcing dogs from breeders who violate the Animal Welfare Act.  If that isn’t a case of government overreach, what is?

Still, there comes a point when we as conservatives must recognize the limits of states’ rights, and surely that line must be drawn when local actions cause harm to the national interest. Alaska legislators’ recent attempt to allow egregious predator control practices — the aerial hunting of grizzly bears, the baiting and indiscriminate trapping of animals and the killing of wolf mothers and pups in dens — on taxpayer-owned lands is exactly the kind of overreach that should temper federalist inclinations and set off moral alarms among Americans of all political leanings.

These practices are inconsistent with fair chase hunting, the protection of our federal lands from parochial local interests and with the values of a party that has historically prioritized personal responsibility and economic prosperity.

C.S. Lewis wrote, “animal pain is … perpetuated by man’s desertion of his post,” and it’s commonly understood that the way we treat animals is a test of our moral compass. As stewards of the earth, we have a continuing responsibility to show compassion to the many animals over which we hold dominion.

Pro-business conservatives, meanwhile, ought to support the continued economic vitality of our national lands and surrounding communities. The USFWS has reported that, in Alaska, wildlife watchers number 640,000 compared to 125,000 hunters and spend five times more ($2 billion) than hunters ($425 million) for wildlife recreational opportunities. In the broader United States as a whole, they number around 70 million. Overzealous killing programs deplete natural capital and deprive local economies and gateway communities of tourism-related jobs.

Last month, 10 brave Republicans opposed the Alaska resolution, H.J. Res. 69, when it came up for a vote in the House. Now it’s up to Senate Republicans to stand for what’s right and protect our national lands from a localized, short-sighted power grab by voting against S.J. Res. 18. Based on my recent experience at CPAC, I remain optimistic that some may find the courage to do so.

Of course, no two conservatives are alike. This is well evidenced at CPAC, where Heritage and AEI mingle alongside Breitbart and Project Veritas. But for my segment of the party (call us the Grand Old Party Animals? Republipups?), we found a diverse coalition of right-leaning voters, often different in motive and method, with one unifying commonality: a love for animals.

As the Party continues to evolve in these rapidly changing times, we must remember to include in that change a place for those who have no voice, and for the countless Americans who care for them. There are many tales of how the elephant came to represent Republicans, but I’d like to think it represents our keen political sense. I hope Senate Republicans utilize that inclination to see how protecting animals is not only the right thing to do, but the smart thing to do as well.

John Connor Cleveland is a policy advisor at The Humane Society of the United States.

The views of contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.

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