Speaking Up For Animals — Speech by Senator Robert C. Byrd

U. S. Senator Robert Byrd of West Virginia gave an unprecedented speech on behalf of farm animals on the floor of the U.S. Senate. It is so important, that we have provided the actual video below. Also we are reproducing excerpts in this newsletter so that everyone can be aware of it. Everyone who cares about the suffering of animals should be proud that this Senator spoke up for them.

Senator Robert Byrd – July 9, 2001

Mr. President, a few months ago, a lady by the name of Sara McBurnett accidentally tapped a sports utility vehicle from behind on a busy highway in California. The angry owner of the bumped vehicle, Mr. Andrew Burnett, stormed back to Ms. McBurnett´s car and began yelling at her; and then reached through her open car window with both hands, grabbed her little white dog and hurled it onto the busy roadway. The lady sat helplessly watching in horror as her frightened little pet ran for its life, dodging speeding traffic to no avail. The traffic was too heavy and the traffic was too swift.Imagine her utter horror. Recently, Mr. Burnett was found guilty of animal cruelty by a jury in a California court, so my faith in the wisdom of juries was restored. Ever since I first heard about this monstrous, brutal, barbaric act, I have wondered what would drive any sane person to do such a thing. There are some people who have blamed this senseless and brutal incident on road rage. But it was not just road rage, it was bestial cruelty. It was and is an outrage. …

There is no minimizing such cruelty and resorting to the lame excuse that, “after all, it was just a dog. ”

The dog owner, Ms. McBurnett, puts the incident in perspective. Here is what she said: It wasn´t just a dog to me. For me, it was my child. A majority of pet owners do believe their pets to be family members. That is the way I look at my little dog, my little dog Billy–Billy Byrd. I look at him as a family member. When he passes away, I will shed tears. I know that. He is a little white Maltese Terrier. As a pet owner and dog lover, I know exactly what that lady means, and so did millions of other dog lovers who could never even fathom such an act. …

Dogs have stolen our hearts and made a place in our homes for thousands of years. Dogs fill an emotional need in man and they have endured as our close companions. They serve as guards and sentries and watchdogs; they are hunting companions. Some, like Lassie and Rin Tin Tin, have become famous actors. But mostly, these sociable little creatures are valued especially as loyal comforters to their human masters. Petting a dog can make our blood pressure drop. Try it. Our heart rate slows down. Try it. Our sense of anxiety diminishes, just goes away. Researchers in Australia have found that dog owners have a lower risk of heart disease, lower blood pressure, and lower cholesterol levels than those people who do not own dogs. Researchers in England have demonstrated that dog owners have far fewer minor health complaints than those people without a dog. Our dogs are about the most devoted, steadfast companions that the Creator could have designed. They are said to be man´s best friend and, indeed, who can dispute it?

The affection that a dog provides is not only unlimited, it is unqualified, unconditional. A faithful dog does not judge its owner, it does not criticize him or her, it simply accepts him or her; it accepts us as we are, for who we are, no matter how we dress, no matter how much money we have or don´t have, and no matter what our social standing might be or might not be. No matter what happens, one´s dog is still one´s friend. …

At the turn of the century, George G. Vest delivered a deeply touching summation before the jury in the trial involving the killing of a dog, Old Drum. …

Burden owned a dog, and he was named “Old Drum.” He was a great hunting dog. Any time that dog barked one could know for sure that it was on the scent of a raccoon or other animal.

Leonidas Hornsby was a farmer who raised livestock and some of his calves and lambs were being killed by animals. He, therefore, swore to shoot any animal, any dog that appeared on his property.

One day there appeared on his property a hound. Someone said: “There´s a dog out there in the yard. ” Hornsby said: “Shoot him. ”

The dog was killed. Charles Burden, the owner of the dog, was not the kind of man to take something like this lightly. He went to court. He won his case and was awarded $25. Hornsby appealed, and, if I recall, on the appeal there was a reversal, whereupon the owner of the dog decided to employ the best lawyer that he could find in the area.

He employed a lawyer by the name of George Graham Vest. This lawyer gave a summation to the jury. Here is [part of] what he said: …

“Gentlemen of the jury, a man´s dog stands by him in prosperity and in poverty, in health and in sickness. He will sleep on the cold ground when the wintry winds blow, and the snow drives fiercely, if only he can be near his master´s side. He will kiss the hand that has no food to offer, he will lick the wounds and sores that come in encounter with the roughness of the world. He guards the sleep of his pauper master as if he were a prince.

When all other friends desert, he remains. When riches take wings and reputation falls to pieces, he is as constant in his love as the Sun in its journey through the heavens.

If fortune drives the master forth and outcast into the world, friendless and homeless, the faithful dog asks no higher privilege than that of accompanying him, to guard him against danger, to fight against his enemies.

And when the last scene of all comes, death takes the master in its embrace and his body is laid in the cold ground, no matter if all other friends desert him and pursue their way, there by his grave side will the noble dog be found, his head between his paws and his eyes sad but open in alert watchfulness, faithful and true, even unto death. ”

Well, of course, George Vest won the case. It was 1869 or 1870. In 1879 he ran for the U.S. Senate and was elected and served in the Senate for 24 years. The citizens in Warrensburg, MO, decided to build a statue to Old Drum, and that statue stands today in the courtyard at Warrensburg. Harry Truman contributed $250 to the building of the statue. …

So, just a little pat, a little treat, a little attention for the dog is all that a pet asks. How many members of the human species can love so completely? How does man return that kind of affection?

I remember a recent news program that told of a man who was going around killing dogs and selling the meat from them. A couple of years ago, NBC News reported that American companies were importing and selling toys made in China that were decorated with the fur from dogs that were raised and then slaughtered just for that purpose. …

The point is this: We have a responsibility to roundly condemn such abject cruelty. Apathy regarding incidents such as this will only lead to more deviant behavior. And respect for life, all life, and for humane treatment of all creatures is something that must never be lost. …

Mr. President, I am concerned that cruelty toward our faithful friend, the dog, may be reflective of an overall trend toward animal cruelty. Recent news accounts have been saturated with accounts of such brutal behavior. A year or two ago, it was revealed that macabre videos showing small animals, including hamsters, kittens, and monkeys, being crushed to death were selling for as much as $300 each. And just a few day ago, there were local news accounts of incidents in Maryland involving decapitated geese being left on the doorsteps of several homes in a Montgomery County community.

Our inhumane treatment of livestock is becoming widespread and more and more barbaric. Six-hundred-pound hogs–they were pigs at one time–raised in 2-foot-wide metal cages called gestation crates, in which the poor beasts are unable to turn around or lie down in natural positions, and this way they live for months at a time.

On profit-driven factory farms, veal calves are confined to dark wooden crates so small that they are prevented from lying down or scratching themselves. These creatures feel; they know pain. They suffer pain just as we humans suffer pain. Egg-laying hens are confined to battery cages. Unable to spread their wings, they are reduced to nothing more than an egg-laying machine.

Last April, the Washington Post detailed the inhumane treatment of livestock in our Nation´s slaughterhouses. A 23-year-old Federal law requires that cattle and hogs to be slaughtered must first be stunned, thereby rendered insensitive to pain, but mounting evidence indicates that this is not always being done, that these animals are sometimes cut, skinned, and scalded while still able to feel pain.

A Texas beef company, with 22 citations for cruelty to animals, was found chopping the hooves off live cattle. In another Texas plant with about two dozen violations, Federal officials found nine live cattle dangling from an overhead chain. Secret videos from an Iowa pork plant show hogs squealing and kicking as they are being lowered into the boiling water that will soften their hides, soften the bristles on the hogs and make them easier to skin.

I used to kill hogs. I used to help lower them into the barrels of scalding water, so that the bristles could be removed easily. But those hogs were dead when we lowered them into the barrels.

The law clearly requires that these poor creatures be stunned and rendered insensitive to pain before this process begins. Federal law is being ignored. Animal cruelty abounds. It is sickening. It is infuriating. Barbaric treatment of helpless, defenseless creatures must not be tolerated even if these animals are being raised for food–and even more so, more so. Such insensitivity is insidious and can spread and is dangerous. Life must be respected and dealt with humanely in a civilized society.

So for this reason I have added language in the supplemental appropriations bill that directs the Secretary of Agriculture to report on cases of inhumane animal treatment in regard to livestock production, and to document the response of USDA regulatory agencies.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture agencies have the authority and the capability to take action to reduce the disgusting cruelty about which I have spoken.

Oh, these are animals, yes. But they, too, feel pain. These agencies can do a better job, and with this provision they will know that the U.S. Congress expects them to do better in their inspections, to do better in their enforcement of the law, and in their research for new, humane technologies. Additionally, those who perpetuate such barbaric practices will be put on notice that they are being watched.

I realize that this provision will not stop all the animal life in the United States from being mistreated. It will not even stop all beef, cattle, hogs and other livestock from being tortured. But it can serve as an important step toward alleviating cruelty and unnecessary suffering by these creatures. …

Thus, Mr. President, God gave man dominion over the Earth. We are only the stewards of this planet. We are only the stewards of His planet. Let us not fail in our Divine mission. Let us strive to be good stewards and not defile God´s creatures or ourselves by tolerating unnecessary, abhorrent, and repulsive cruelty.

What you can do

  1. Write to your congressional representatives and urge them to support humane legislation for farm animals.
  2. Urge the USDA to provide better inspections and enforcement (see President´s Message.)
  3. Write to your NYS state representatives and urge them to support the bill that mandates shelter for all owned animals.
  4. Please support NYSHA so we can continue our important work to promote humane legislation.

New York State Humane Association Humane Review, Vol.XV, No.2, Spring 2002.