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Opinion | Sessions’ anti-animal protection record

Jeff Sessions has had a long career in politics and countless opportunities to demonstrate opposition to cruelty to animals. Yet, in 20 years in the Senate, it’s hard to put your arms around a single positive thing he did. Sure, Alabama is an agricultural state, with a rich tradition of hunting, but we’re not talking about those things.  We’re talking basic decency when it comes to treating the least among us and showing mercy for God’s creation.

The first political campaign I ever volunteered to work on was Sessions’ first bid for the U.S. Senate in 1996. I liked so much about him and his pledges, but boy, did I learn that caring for animals was not part of his worldview.  I grew up in the horse industry, showing horses and competing, and I understood from a very young age that most Alabamians are connected to animals, especially those of us who grew up in rural areas.

One type of cruelty that Republicans and Democrats took on during the two decades that Sessions served in the Senate was dogfighting and cockfighting.  But, surprisingly, they didn’t find an ally in Sessions. During the 107th Congress, Republican Senator and large-animal veterinarian Wayne Allard attracted nearly two thirds of the Senate on his bill (S. 345) to close the loophole in the Animal Welfare Act that allowed interstate shipment of fighting birds, but Sessions was an opponent. And in the 108th Congress, he failed to cosponsor the Animal Fighting Prohibition Enforcement Act (S. 736) to establish felony-level penalties for dogfighting and cockfighting. In the 109th and 110th Congresses, Sessions failed to support animal fighting legislation (S. 382 and S. 261) to establish federal level penalties for dog and cockfighting. And in the 112thCongress, Sessions was among a handful of Senators who voted against efforts to make it a crime to attend a dogfight or cockfight or to bring a child to such a spectacle (Roll Call Vote # 154).

U.S. Senator Richard Shelby supported the prohibition on attending animal fights, and later, Sessions’ successor, Doug Jones, co-sponsored legislation to ban animal fighting everywhere in the U.S. – the Parity in Animal Cruelty Enforcement (PACE) Act – a provision included in the 2018 Farm bill, with six of seven of Alabama’s U.S. Representatives favoring the anti-animal fighting language.  President Trump signed that provision into law, and it took effect in December 2019.

Sessions has been hostile to other reforms, opposing an amendment to the 2005 Farm Bill to stop horse slaughter by prohibiting the use of tax dollars to fund USDA inspection of horse slaughterhouses.

Sessions voted to table an amendment to the 2000 Interior Appropriations bill to prohibit the use of funds  to authorize, permit, administer, or promote the use of any jawed leghold trap or neck snare in any unit of the National Wildlife Refuge System. Animals trapped by these devices, which sometimes ensnare family pets or endangered species, suffer crushed bones, gangrene, and starvation.

Sessions failed to support reforms to stop the abuse of cows too sick or injured to walk and then dragged into slaughterhouses, putting consumers at risk of consuming diseased animals. Just months after Congress failed to address the matter, the USDA determined a cow slaughtered in Washington state had Mad Cow Disease. That cow was a “downer,” and if the ban on slaughtering “downers” had been in place, it would have never been dragged into the slaughterhouse and created a global food safety panic. This was the first finding of a cow with this disease in the U.S., and in response, more than 80 nations closed their markets to U.S. beef imports, causing a loss to the cattle industry in excess of $10 billion.

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And in the 113th, 114th, and 115th Congresses, Sessions failed to support the Republican-led Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act, an amendment to the Horse Protection Act of 1970 that would ensure the protection of the Alabama’s official state Racking Horse whose world grand champion is crowned in Priceville each year.

As a native Alabamian, and a life-long Republican who cares about animals, I got turned off to my political hero when he showed such a hard heart toward animals. Whether hunters or non-hunters, farmers or just consumers, most every Alabamian I know cares about animals.  It’s a shame that Jeff Sessions didn’t figure that out about Alabamians in his long tenure in Washington. Alabamians should step up against animal abuse and send an electoral verdict that cruelty is never acceptable.

Marty Irby
Written By

Marty Irby is a native Alabamian from Mobile who currently serves as executive director at Animal Wellness Action in Washington, D.C., and was recently honored by Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth, II for his work to protect animals. Follow him on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook @MartyIrby.

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