Julián Castro says he has a plan to rescue the symbiotic, many-millennia-long relationship between people and animals — one imperiled by climate change and humanity’s irreversible impact on the environment.
On Monday, Castro became the cycle’s first Democratic candidate for president to release a detailed, wide-ranging plan for bolstering animal rights, an issue of increasing importance to the American electorate.
Castro, whose strong performance in the first primary debate helped him escape the back of a large Democratic pack, is on the cusp of qualifying for the party’s third bout in September — a potentially crucial milestone. He’s still battling to gain ground in polls, but he has earned a reputation for having a well-considered immigration plan.
With his new set of proposals, Castro positions himself among the leading voices for advancing animal protections, something that polling suggests the public overwhelmingly supports.
His ideas include ending the euthanasia of healthy cats and dogs in shelters, making animal cruelty a federal crime and expanding U.S. protected lands. The plan won praise from animal welfare advocates who have pushed 2020 candidates to publish similar platforms and to support animal-friendly legislation.
“We applaud Secretary Castro’s proposal to protect our pets, wildlife, and animals raised for food,” Brad Pyle, the political director at the Humane Society Legislative Fund, said in a statement to The Washington Post. “Voters are lucky to have so many animal protection champions seeking the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination.”
Castro’s championing of animal rights is both a sign of the times and a perhaps inevitable step in a campaign already dominated by dogs, cats and their people, who have so far made them a fixture on the trail and in candidate ads.
Several presidential hopefuls — Sens. Cory Booker (N.J.), Bernie Sanders (Vt.), Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.) and Elizabeth Warren (Mass.) — have perfect scores on the Humane Society Legislative Fund’s Humane Scorecard, which calculates lawmakers’ support for animal protections.
Booker, a vegan who has spoken at length about his legislative hopes for animals, and author Marianne Williamson have both advocated generally for stronger laws. Williamson has said the mistreatment of animals is “damaging to the American soul.”
“We need to find a way to better respect animals, and stop what in some cases is inhumane treatment — all the while, supporting our farmers and ranchers, financially and otherwise, to help make it so,” her campaign site reads.
But Castro’s new, detailed proposals may be another indicator of the purchase that far-reaching defenses of animal rights have with voters. A 2015 Gallup poll found that nearly a third of Americans think animals should be given the same rights as people. An additional 62 percent said animals deserved at least some protection.
And the issue may have even more resonance with Democrats after President Trump’s weakening of the Endangered Species Act, the law that brought the bald eagle, the humpback whale and the grizzly bear back from the brink of extinction. Castro, meanwhile, said he would strengthen the landmark legislation.
In announcing his plan, Castro sought to position himself as the salve to four years of Trump administration policies.
“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 in a statement. “This groundbreaking plan will improve the treatment of animals around the country and the world, and undo Donald Trump’s damage.”
Castro also called for higher standards for factory farms and for a ban on the private ownership of lions and tigers, which has boomed throughout the country to the point that there now may be more captive tigers in the United States than in the wild. He also echoed positions taken by Hillary Clinton in 2016, who advocated for increased oversight of dog-breeding operations and a permanent end to the slaughter of horses for human consumption.
The former mayor of San Antonio and secretary of housing and urban development under President Barack Obama has a history of supporting animal rights. Under his watch, San Antonio greatly reduced the number of homeless pets being euthanized.
Castro said he hopes that program can be a model for national policy.
“This is one of the most important political movements that no one thinks about,” Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), the co-chair of the Congressional Animal Protection Caucus, said in 2016, when Clinton announced her plans. “It’s gone mainstream.”