By Alisa Mullins
With the passing of Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia, animals and the people who care about them have lost a longstanding and true friend. The senior senator, who was a meat cutter in his youth, evolved into a tireless advocate for animals.
Sen. Byrd's soft spot for animals, fueled by his love for his little dog, Billy, was as legendary as the passionate speeches he often made on their behalf. No one who saw it can forget the speech he gave in response to the Michael Vick scandal, in which he condemned dogfighting as "Barbaric! Hear me! Barbaric!"
In 2001, Byrd gave a moving speech in defense of a bill addressing cruelty to farmed animals, saying,
"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. … These creatures feel; they know pain. They suffer pain just as we humans suffer pain."
A year later, Sen. Byrd led an effort to convince the Senate Appropriations Committee to provide $5 million—a record amount—for improving enforcement of the Humane Slaughter Act.
In 2005, Sen. Byrd coauthored the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act, which would prohibit the transport, purchase, and sale of horses for human consumption. Versions of the bill, now called The Prevention of Equine Cruelty Act, have been introduced every year since then, but have yet to pass both houses. As a tribute to Sen. Byrd, please urge your U.S. representatives to at last pass this important law.
PETA named Sen. Byrd our 2007 "Person of the Year" to recognize his defense of animals throughout six decades of public service. Sen. Byrd gave a powerful voice to those with none of their own. His passionate and inspiring dedication to helping animals will be sorely missed.