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Queenie and Congress: How to effectively respond to letters from senators and representatives when you don’t get the answer you want

June 29th, 2010 by Nicole Meyer

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Many of you wrote to your members of Congress in the past two weeks to request help in ensuring that the USDA is held responsible for its actions in sending Queenie to a tiny, antiquated exhibit in the San Antonio Zoo. We had long urged that she go to a sanctuary where she could get the special rehabilitative care that she needs after a lifetime of abuse in the circus industry. Instead, the USDA showed itself to be far too enmeshed with the zoo industry by acting as its acquisition arm rather than its regulator.

Several of you have shared with us responses from your senators and representatives indicating that our elected officials don’t understand that the USDA orchestrated Queenie’s transfer to the zoo rather than directing her to a facility where her needs could best be met. Likewise, the USDA appears to be successfully sidestepping the outrageous fact that Queenie’s trainer, Will Davenport, financially benefited from the agency’s deal-making, despite the fact he was found in repeated violation of federal animal welfare law.

We look at any response as a useful “foot in the door” toward getting some real help for Queenie in the form of attention from Congress. The key is to capitalize on that response.

If you have received a letter regarding Queenie from one of your senators or representatives, the next step is to follow up with a phone call to his or her office. (You can do this even if you did not receive a response!) Ask to speak with the aide who covers animal issues, and fill them in, using the following information:

  • The USDA crafted a deal in which an abusive elephant trainer, who was repeatedly cited for serious violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act and faced formal charges, financially benefited , ending up $20,000 richer for it.
  • Will Davenport’s violations were so egregious that the USDA seized two elephants, Tina and Jewel, in August 2009 because they were in such dire condition. Davenport also “threatened, abused and harassed” APHIS officials in the course of carrying out their duties.
  • The USDA’s formal charges against Davenport resulted in $100,000 in assessed fines. But under the USDA’s settlement deal, he never paid a penny in fines and he sold his remaining elephant, Queenie, to the San Antonio Zoo for $20,000.
  • The USDA claims to make decisions based on the best interest of each individual animal, yet it failed to ensure that Queenie was sent to a sanctuary where she would have received the specialized rehabilitative care she needed after decades of abuse in the circus. Instead she was sent to a zoo that lacks the space to properly care for even one elephant.
  • This represents just one more example of a federal oversight agency that is far too entwined with the industry it is supposed to be regulating, and the American people are tired of it.

Queenie, imprisoned in that tiny zoo cell, is the embodiment of the USDA’s many failures to hold the welfare of its charges above the interests of the industry. Let’s use this opportunity to focus Congressional attention on her, and on the problem elephants face at the hands of the USDA. Please make your follow-up calls today!

If you need additional help in responding to your elected officials or if your senator or representative wishes to help, please contact Deb Robinson at circuses@idausa.org.

This blog was contributed by Deborah Robinson, IDA’s Captive Elephant Specialist.