Animal Welfare Bills Gain Momentum in the U.S. Senate

By: Dr. Whitney Miller, assistant director, Governmental Relations Division

Several pieces of legislation related to animal welfare saw movement in the Senate in the waning days of the 112th Congress.

On Dec. 4, the Senate unanimously passed the Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act (S. 1947).  This bill would amend the Animal Welfare Act, which prohibits people from knowingly attending an animal fight or causing a minor to attend an animal fight.  It also imposes criminal and civil penalties for violating the law.  The AVMA has an “Active Pursuit of Passage” position on this bill and is working diligently to move the bill to the finish line. No vote is currently scheduled on this bill in the House of Representatives.

On Dec. 6, the Senate passed a bill (S. 3666) that would exempt pet owners from regulations governing animals that are exhibited, such as if the pet appeared as an extra in a movie. The exemption would only apply to common household pets that live in the owner’s home. Exotic animals, such as chimps or tigers, would still be subject to exhibitor regulations. The AVMA does not yet have a position on this bill.

Also this month, AVMA learned that the Senate was considering  bringing the Great Ape Protection and Cost Savings Act (S. 810) up for a vote. The AVMA sent an action alert to its CAN members asking them to express their opposition to this legislation and the GRD staff also reached out to key Senate offices asking them to oppose this bill. The AVMA continues to oppose this bill for the following reasons:

  • The latest version of the bill allows exceptions for biomedical research, but only after the research proposal has been submitted to the Secretary of Health and Human Services, reviewed by a designated panel, and published in the Federal Register for public comment.  This would be an unprecedented and unacceptable step by Congress to control the process of scientific discovery and biomedical research.
  • This legislation continues to be unnecessary.
    • The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is in the process of implementing recommendations from the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies.
    • Current standards of care for great apes housed in biomedical research facilities already appropriately include parameters about the ethical use, appropriate environment (including housing and enrichments), veterinary evaluation, and care for the animals.
    • NIH does not need new authority to retire chimpanzees to sanctuaries.  That authority already exists.
  • The definition for “invasive research” that is used in the proposed bill is overly broad and poorly written.

For more information, contact Dr. Whitney Miller at

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