Prosecuted two dog attack fatalities, enforced pit bull sterilization ordinance, but favors adoptions of fighting dogs
SAN FRANCISCO––U.S. Senator Kamala Harris, named vice presidential running mate to Democratic Party presidential nominee Joe Biden on August 11, 2020, brings to the election campaign both a strong record on animal protection and a mixed record in response to dog attacks.
Harris early in her career stood up to militant pit bull advocates, on behalf of attack victims, but has more recently promoted the adoption of pit bulls impounded from dogfighting investigations.
Humane Society Legislative Fund praises choice of Harris
Biden’s choice of Harris to run with him against incumbent Republican president Donald Trump and vice president Mike Pence was praised within minutes by Sara Amundson, president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund subsidiary of the Humane Society of the United States.
Although Amundson and Humane Society of the U.S. president Kitty Block usually co-sign their blog posts, HSUS media relations assistant told ANIMALS 24-7 that Amundson’s post about Harris did not represent either Block or HSUS, and that “HSUS does not ever endorse candidates or participate in elections.”
Amundson was not just enthusiastic because the Trump administration has sought from inauguration to dismantle enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act, Wild & Free-Ranging Horse & Burro Protection Act, Marine Mammal Protection Act, and Endangered Species Act.
Enacted during the Richard Nixon presidency, in 1971, 1972, and 1973, all four laws were–– before the Trump administration––often claimed by Republicans as signal achievements, though also not vigorously enforced during the Ronald Reagan administration, 1981-1988, in particular.
“A very strong pick”
Wrote Amundson, “From the animal protection policy perspective, Joe Biden has made a very strong pick for his running mate. Senator Kamala Harris has achieved a score of 100% every year on the Humane Scorecard,” a project of the Humane Society Legislative Fund, “since being elected to the U.S. Senate.
“In the current congress,” Amundson recounted, “Harris is a cosponsor of legislation to crack down on horse soring abuses, prohibit the trade of shark fins, reduce wildlife trafficking, and address widespread doping of racehorses. She also supported the PACT Act to create a felony penalty for malicious animal cruelty [committed on federal property], which [in November 2019] was signed into law by President Trump,” and was promptly claimed by Trump as his landmark accomplishment for animal welfare.
The PACT Act, however, exempts anything done in connection with legal hunting, fishing, or trapping; “customary and normal” agricultural and veterinary practices; slaughtering animals for food; pest control; medical and scientific research; euthanasia; or actions “necessary to protect the life or property of a person.”
Most vertebrate species are otherwise covered, including birds, reptiles, and amphibians, but fish and invertebrates are not covered at all.
Adoption of fighting dogs
Continued Amundson, “Harris has also gained praise for introducing the Help Extract Animals from Red Tape (HEART) Act, along with Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine), which will expedite the disposition of abused animals who have been rescued and seized from persons involved in unlawful animal fighting or gambling.”
Said Harris herself in an April 8, 2019 Facebook post, “We can and must do much more so that survivors of dogfighting find their forever homes. My bill, the HEART Act, would help ensure this.”
According to the official Congress.gov summary of the HEART Act, HR 1228, it would require that “The government must notify interested parties of an animal’s seizure within 30 days (currently, 60 days). The notice period may be extended only if a delay is warranted after considering certain factors, including the cost to the government of providing shelter for the animal, the health of the animal and the effect of a delay on its rehabilitation, and any increased risk that a delay could necessitate the euthanasia of the animal.
“Additionally, the bill authorizes amounts in the Department of Justice Assets Forfeiture Fund to be used to pay for costs associated with a seized animal, including transportation, shelter, care, veterinary services, and humane euthanasia.”
Bill could expedite euthanasia of dogs found unsafe
The HEART Act thereby could actually expedite euthanasia of dogs impounded from fighting investigations, if the dogs are deemed unsafe for adoption within the 30-day time after impoundment.
The HEART Act has been endorsed by both the Humane Society of the U.S. and the American SPCA. However, having died in committee in the 115th Congress, it has attracted only 76 cosponsors in the 116th Congress, not nearly enough to give it much chance of advancing out of committee before the 2020 election.
“As California’s attorney general (2011-2017), Kamala Harris defended a series of pioneering animal protection laws approved in the state,” Amundson added. She continuously defended California’s ban on foie gras sales after producers launched a series of challenges in the courts.
Selling foie gras, an oily spread made from the diseased livers of force-fed ducks and geese, was banned in California in 2004, but Los Angeles U.S. District Judge Stephen V. Wilson on July 14, 2020 ruled that Californians may continue to purchase it from out-of-state suppliers.
Wayne Pacelle, Humane Society of the U.S. president 2004-2018, now heading Animal Wellness Action, also praised Kamala Harris for her work as California attorney general.
In particular, Pacelle singled out Harris in January 2015 for having “defended a series of pioneering animal protection laws,” winning “four separate challenges to Proposition 2 and AB 1437.”
Proposition 2, approved by California voters in 2008, centered on purportedly prohibiting egg-laying hens in so-called battery cages. AB 1437 was passed by the California legislature to clarify that eggs from hens kept in battery cages elsewhere were also barred from sale in California.
While Harris successfully defended the jurisdiction of California voters and the state legislature to regulate farmed animal welfare, the laws themselves included language––drafted and approved by the Humane Society of the U.S.––that allowed egg-laying hens to continue to be kept in “colony cages,” which afford them little more freedom of movement than did battery caging.
(See Legalizing California Battery Cages: HSUS & Egg Industry Redefine Proposition 2 in Toxic Ballot Measure, by Humane Farming Association president Brad Miller.)
Confronted by Direct Action Everywhere
Before co-sponsoring federal legislation to protect sharks, which has yet to win passage, Kamala Harris also “defeated a challenge to California’s ban on the possession and sale of shark fins,” Pacelle recalled.
Not all animal advocates have been enthusiastic about Harris. Direct Action Everywhere protester Aiden Cook, 24, on June 1, 2019 jumped onstage during a Big Ideas Forum hosted in San Francisco by MoveOn, a political organization aligned with the Democratic Party, took the microphone from Harris, and briefly spoke before security personnel took him away.
Cook in 2018 similarly disrupted a campaign appearance by then-presidential candidate Bernard Sanders, senior U.S. Senator from Vermont.
Direct Action Everywhere cofounder Wayne Hsiung issued a public apology to Harris a day later. “The interruption of Senator Harris inside the forum, which unfolded as a 1000+ person march for animal rights was occurring outside, was not approved by the Direct Action Everywhere steering committee.”
Harris & the Diane Whipple mauling death
Long before doing any of the things that Block, Amundson, and Pacelle remembered Kamala Harris for doing, she led the San Francisco legal response to fatal and disfiguring dog attacks, including pit bull proliferation.
Harris was recruited from the Alameda County District Attorney’s Office in February 1998 by then-San Francisco district attorney Terence Hallinan. After clashing with senior assistant district attorney Darrell Salomon, Harris resigned and in August 2000 took a position handling child abuse and neglect cases for the San Francisco Family and Children’s Services Division.
Harris was working in that capacity when on January 26, 2001 two Presa Canarios belonging to San Francisco attorneys Marjorie Knoller and Robert Noel fatally mauled St. Mary’s College lacrosse coach Diane Whipple, 33, at the door to her apartment.
Harris was not involved in the initial prosecution of Knoller and Noel, who were tried in Los Angeles, rather than San Francisco, in order to find an impartial jury.
Knoller on March 21, 2002 was convicted of second degree murder. Both Knoller and Noel were also convicted of manslaughter and keeping a dangerous animal.
Defended jury sentencing
San Francisco Superior Court judge James Warren prevented prosecutors Terrence Hallinan, James Hammer, and Kimberly Guilfoyle (reportedly dating Donald Trump Jr., since 2018) from presenting evidence that Knoller and Noel had sexual relations with the Presa Canarios. This, the prosecution contended, might have contributed to the fatal attack.
On appeal, Warren in 2004 threw out the second degree murder conviction of Knoller, and allowed her to be released on bail, as she had completed her manslaughter sentence.
Harris, meanwhile, ran against Hallinan in 2003, winning 56% of the vote.
Harris took over the prosecution of Knoller and Noel. “We believe the defendant should be sentenced as originally mandated by the jury,” Harris said.
The California First District Court of Appeal in May 2005 reinstated the second degree murder conviction. Further litigation of the conviction and sentence continued until in February 2016 the conviction was affirmed by U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Harris continued oversight of the case until she was elected California state attorney general in November 2010.
The Nicholas Faibish case
Harris handled her second dog attack fatality case after Nicholas Faibish, 12, was killed on June 3, 2005 by two pit bulls kept by his mother, Maureen Faibish, 39.
Maureen Faibish was charged with felony child endangerment resulting in death, Harris told media, because she knew it was dangerous to leave Nicholas alone with the pit bulls.
On July 31, 2006, however, “A San Francisco jury deadlocked after deliberating for more than two days,” reported San Francisco Chronicle staff writer Jaxon Van Derbeken.
“Ten of the 12 panelists favored acquittal on the charge of felony child endangerment,” Van Derbeken wrote. “A 7-5 split favored conviction on a misdemeanor charge.
“The prosecution argued during the trial,” Van Derbeken summarized, “that Maureen Faibish ignored warning signs that the family’s two dogs were a danger when she left Nicholas alone in their Inner Sunset District home so she could attend her daughter’s school picnic.
“Putting the boy in a basement with food and video games, but no working toilet, and instructing him not to go near the dogs, constituted criminal negligence, prosecutors said.
“The boy had been bitten earlier that day by the Faibishes’ 70-pound male pit bull. Nicholas had a learning disability and had difficulty following instructions, and his mother should have known he was unlikely to stay in the basement as she asked, the prosecution contended.
“Maureen Faibish told authorities after Nicholas’ death,” Van Derbeken added, “that the family’s male dog had been agitated because the female was in heat but was refusing to mate with him.
“[Maureen Faibish] said that she had given the boy a shovel to prop the basement door shut against the dogs, and that he had snack food to eat and video games to keep himself entertained. When she returned to the family’s home on Lincoln Way after nearly three hours, she found the boy’s body in an upstairs bedroom.”
Harris opted against retrying Maureen Faibish, she told media, because of the risk of again having a hung jury.
Pit bull sterilization ordinance
Meanwhile the San Francisco city council adopted an ordinance promoted by then-San Francisco mayor Gavin Newsom, now governor of California, which has required since January 1, 2006 that pit bulls must be sterilized if brought within the San Francisco city limits.
Enforced by Harris, the ordinance reduced San Francisco shelter intakes of pit bulls by two-thirds in two years, and brought San Francisco the lowest volume of pit bull killing in shelters of any major U.S. city.
Elected California attorney general in 2011, Harris next had occasion to address a dog attack case toward the end of her tenure, after the January 3, 2016 pit bull attack death of nine-year-old Tyler Trammell-Huston, who had been left alone in a dilapidated house trailer with two of three pit bulls belonging to his sister Alexandria Griffin-Heady, 24, with whom he was living.
Yuba County district attorney Patrick McGrath declined to prosecute Griffin-Heady.
Attorney Kenneth M. Phillips, of Sherman Oaks, California, in April 2016 requested in writing that McGrath reconsider.
“Assuming that Mr. McGrath will not reverse his decision,” Phillips wrote in a guest column for ANIMALS 24-7, “the public should call on California attorney general Kamala Harris to review the case in light of section 399 of the Penal Code.”
By that time, however, Harris was already running for her U.S. Senate seat, and appears to have taken no action.
Police dogs & pets in protective orders
Also in 2016 Harris responded to allegations of frequent civil rights violations and misuse of force, including misuse of police dogs, by the Bakersfield Police Department and Kern County Sheriff’s Department––the two largest law enforcement agencies in the county.
Harris ordered a state investigation, but had already been elected to the U.S. Senate by the time the investigation concluded.
Harris during her 2016 U.S. Senate campaign issued a platform pledge that she would “Fight for Nationwide Protections for Animal Rights.”
“As San Francisco district attorney,” Harris reminded voters, she “successfully sponsored legislation that now allows judges to include a family’s pets in protective orders in domestic violence cases.”
Pledged to “protect the rights of animals”
Harris pledged to “protect the rights of animals by supporting humane legislation, opposing government programs that use taxpayer funds to harm animals, supporting initiatives to protect animals and for adequate enforcement of animal welfare laws, and opposing inhumane laws or those which weaken current protections.
Harris also said she would “push for federal funding for programs that enable veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder to train [shelter] dogs as a form of therapy and provide trained companion dogs to disabled veterans.”
Harris further said she would “support strong enforcement to crack down on puppy mills and ensure humane care for dogs in commercial breeding operations,” and “support enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act, providing funding for USDA inspectors overseeing conditions at puppy mills, research laboratories, roadside zoos, circuses, and other regulated facilities.”
Favors bills promoted by HSUS
Harris specifically endorsed the Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act, promoted by the Humane Society of the U.S., “to ban exports of horses for slaughter in other countries, and prevent horse slaughter plants from re-opening in the U.S.”
Harris also said she would “support legislation such as the Horseracing Integrity and Safety Act, also promoted by HSUS, to ban doping of racehorses and allow the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency to oversee and enforce the new rules,” and would “push for more humane treatment and population control of wild horses by the Bureau of Land Management.
Concerning animal use in product safety testing, Harris promised to “fight for greater funding for the development and approval of alternative chemical testing methods.”
In general, Harris said, she would “support continued funding for wildlife conservation, habitat protection programs and efforts to combat poaching,” and “will oppose any efforts to weaken the Endangered Species Act.
Concerned about climate change, but not veg
Harris continued that she “supports legislation to prohibit monkeys, chimpanzees, and other primates from being shipped across state lines for the pet trade,” and “will support legislation such as the Big Cats and Public Safety Protection Act to limit the breeding of lions, tigers, and other big cats to accredited zoos.”
Harris finally mentioned that “We shouldn’t forget that entire species are at risk for extinction because of climate change.”
While Harris is not a vegetarian, she has mentioned in campaign appearances that she “would support changing the U.S. dietary guidelines to reduce the recommended intake of red meat specifically,” because of the contribution of meat production to global warming.