Don Young says no thanks to Humane Society award

Erika Bolstad

WASHINGTON -- Calling them "hypocrites, plain and simple," Rep. Don Young thumbed his nose last week at one of the nation's foremost animal advocacy organizations, the Humane Society.

After years of thumping Young for his positions on trophy hunting, endangered species and cockfighting, the Humane Society decided that Young had done something nice for a change -- helping sea otters and other marine mammals with a bill in 2009. If it had passed Congress, Young's Marine Mammal Rescue Assistance Amendments would have provided grants to people who rescue otters, manatees and other sea mammals from fishing nets.

It was enough for the Humane Society to recognize Young with one of its "Humane Awards."

The group of recipients was hardly an exclusive club -- more than one third of the Senate and a quarter of the House were named. The awards were issued along with the organization's Humane Scorecard, which it says gives animal advocates "a tool to assess the performance" of their elected officials. The scorecard tracks key votes along with whether lawmakers sponsor pro-animal bills and support the funding needed to enforce animal welfare laws.

Young was having nothing of the award.

"To accept this award would be supporting their manipulative ways and misguided agenda, and I want no part of that," Young said in a statement rejecting the honor.

He described the anti-hunting and anti-trapping campaigns of the organization as being "of the same cloth" as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and other groups he described as "extremist organizations."

They "prey on the emotions of big-hearted Americans" Young said, by "flashing images of abused animals on our television screens to raise money that will eventually go to pay their salaries and pensions, not to helping better the lives of these animals."

Local animal shelters and humane societies do "excellent work" with their spaying and neutering programs and in caring for neglected and homeless animals, Young said in the statement.

Dashing onto the floor of the House of Representatives for a vote Thursday, Young offered further explanation for rejecting the award.

"Most of all, I've been a hunter all my life," Young said. "And they're against hunting. And that bothered me."

The Humane Society had little to say about Young's decision. It typically recognizes members of Congress who are lead sponsors of animal protection bills, said Michael Markarian, the chief operating officer of the Humane Society and president of its legislative fund.

Young's legislation amended a House bill that updates the existing practices and procedures for rescuing and rehabilitating stranded or entangled marine mammals. Only stranded animals had been part of the law; his amendments expanded it to include mammals entangled in rope, gear, line and nets, and whether alive or dead.

"We disagree with his views on most animal welfare policies," Markarian said, "but we also believe in giving credit where credit is due and recognizing positive actions."