Sometimes the policy offerings of the many Democratic presidential candidates begin to blur in their similarity. But Julián Castro has taken a step that distinguishes him from the crowd, and taps a potentially important constituency: animal lovers. Earlier this week he released a comprehensive “animal welfare plan,” as Vox reports:
The Democrat’s Protecting Animals and Wildlife (PAW) plan, released on Monday, includes an array of bold proposals, including making animal cruelty a federal crime.
Castro frames his plan as a way of sticking it to President Donald Trump and as the solution to Trumpian problems. The PAW plan would strengthen the Endangered Species Act, which Trump has weakened. And it would stop Americans from importing animal trophies that result from big-game hunting — something Donald Trump Jr. is known to love.
“The president does not care about animals and his cruel actions prove it. He has put corporate profits over living creatures and individual fortunes over our future,” Castro said. “This groundbreaking plan will improve the treatment of animals around the country and the world, and undo Donald Trump’s damage.”
In the past environmentalists have championed the Endangered Species Act on biodiversity grounds, but have often been outflanked by conservatives who frame the issue as a threat to human progress and prosperity on behalf of obscure and not terribly attractive critters like the tiny snail darter fish, whose protected habitat famously delayed construction of a reservoir in Tennessee in the 1970s. Connecting biodiversity to more relatable animal-rights issues, as Castro has done, builds on a much stronger constituency. As HuffPost notes, PAW deals with issues everyone can understand:
Castro’s plan offers several strategies and proposals that would work toward ending euthanasia in shelters. The number of dogs and cats that are euthanized in animal shelters across America changes depending on whom you ask, from just over 700,000 to 3 million annually. But that figure has decreased over the last three decades as spaying and neutering have increased dramatically.
Castro’s plan calls for $40 million in federal funding for a “Local Animal Communities Grant Program,” which would help defray the costs of vaccinating, spaying and neutering animals. The money would also go toward programs that promote animal adoption.
The plan also says that new affordable housing units will be pet-friendly. As part of his campaign, Castro has laid out a housing plan that would create 3 million new affordable housing units over 10 years. Castro also says he will work with homeless shelters that receive federal support to “ensure pets belonging to homeless individuals seeking refuge are not prohibited entry.”
Whatever you think of PAW as public policy, it’s very smart politics, particularly for a candidate like Castro who is struggling to become viable. As Gallup reported back in 2015, there is remarkably broad and deep support for animal rights in the U.S. these days:
Almost a third of Americans, 32%, believe animals should be given the same rights as people, while 62% say they deserve some protection but can still be used for the benefit of humans. The strong animal rights view is up from 2008 when 25% thought animals’ rights should be on par with humans’ …
Very few Americans, 3%, believe animals require little protection from harm and exploitation “since they are just animals.”
This is an issue on which American pols (at least at the national level) are a bit behind the curve. In the U.K., for example (where fox hunting is a major culture-war issue), every political party other than the Tories has an elaborate animal-welfare agenda. It’s a standard element of left-of-center politics, which is understandable given its close relationship to common environmental and agricultural policy themes.
It will be interesting to see if other candidates follow Castro down this path. You’ll know he’s hit a ten-strike if people start showing up at his events with their pets.