On Monday, the animals lost one of their most powerful and ardent voices, Senator Robert Byrd. A member of the Democratic Party, Byrd served as a Senator from 1959 to 2010 and was the longest-serving senator and the longest-serving member in the history of the United States Congress. Byrd was 92 years old and still in office when he died.
Byrd’s history in politics began with a controversial start. He joined the Ku Klux Klan in 1942 when he was just 24 years old.
In his latest autobiography, Byrd explained that he was a KKK member because he "was sorely afflicted with tunnel vision,” and believed that the Klan could provide an outlet for his talents and ambitions. In an interview with Slate in 2002 Byrd renounced his racist past and stated that joining the KKK was the greatest mistake he had ever made.
Byrd also said that his views changed dramatically after his teenage grandson was killed in a 1982 traffic accident, which put him in a deep emotional valley. "The death of my grandson caused me to stop and think," said Byrd, as well as the realization that black people love their children as much as he does his.
Though the Senator filibustered against the 1964 Civil Rights Act and supported the Vietnam War, Byrd evolved to become an outspoken critic of the Iraq War and runaway government spending.
Byrd was also reputed for speaking out against animal cruelty. On July 19, 2007, Byrd, a self-described dog lover, gave a passionate 25-minute speech in the Senate against dog fighting, in response to the indictment of NFL star, Michael Vick. Byrd called dog fighting a "brutal, sadistic event motivated by barbarism of the worst sort and cruelty of the worst, worst, worst sadistic kind. One is left wondering: 'Who are the real animals: the creatures inside the ring, or the creatures outside the ring?'” The riveting speech ended with Byrd making one final albeit passionate point: "I am confident that the hottest places in hell are reserved for the souls of sick and brutal people who hold God's creatures in such brutal and cruel contempt.”
In recognition of the speech, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals named Byrd their 2007 Person of the Year. Byrd was also recognized by PETA for several other pleas he made for animals.
* In a hearing to determine how to prevent a reoccurrence of 2007's massive pet-food recall that may have killed hundreds of cats and dogs, Byrd said, "Our pets are our companions, our soul mates, and our hedge against emotional turmoil."
* In 2005, Byrd coauthored the American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act, which prohibits the transport, purchase, and sale of horses for human consumption. Byrd also introduced a bill that would prohibit the commercial sale and slaughter of wild horses and burros.
* In 2002, 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 2001, Byrd gave a moving oration 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."
It goes without saying that the animals lost an important voice with the passing of Senator Robert Byrd. Not only did Byrd open the door for further recognition regarding animal welfare and animal cruelty issues, but he raised the political bar by deeming such issues worthy of representation on the Senate floor.