The tough conservative has a soft spot for the rights of pets and animals.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Puppies and kittens likely are not the first things that come to mind when many think of Sen. Rick Santorum -- the conservative No. 3 Senate Republican known for his tough stance against abortion and gay marriage.
However, Santorum, R-Pa., has won high praise from the Humane Society of the United States for pushing legislation aimed at ending breeding facilities known as puppy mills.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals also finds him a friend. "He's a man with a heart, and he doesn't think it's any more acceptable to treat animals cruelly than humans," said Mary Beth Sweetland, director of research and investigations for the Norfolk, Va.-based PETA.
Santorum, chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, said those who think of animal rights as a liberal cause should not be surprised to find him in this camp. A father of six who has a 2-year-old German Shepherd named Schatzie, he said having pets makes for a healthier home.
"To me, it's part of a society that's caring, sensitive to life," Santorum said in a recent interview. "Obviously, the life of animals is fundamentally different than the life of a human being. But to me, we have a responsibility to God's creatures to treat them humanely, and the government's laws should reflect that."
Pennsylvania is among the top 10 states with breeding facilities regulated by the Agriculture Department. It also is home to countless puppy mills, which Santorum said is "not something I'm particularly proud of."
Santorum recently introduced a bill co-sponsored with Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., called PAWS -- the Pet Animal Welfare Statute -- that would require USDA to regulate breeders who sell seven or more litters of dogs or cats per year.
The bill also would require better oversight of importers, Internet sellers and other non-breeder dealers who sell more than 25 dogs or cats per year.
He introduced another bill with Sens. George Allen, R-Va., and Mark Pryor, D-Ark., that would require manufacturers to add a bittering agent to antifreeze so it tastes bad to animals. In addition, Santorum has promoted anti-cockfighting legislation and more funding for federal oversight of animal breeding facilities.
The animal rights political action committee Humane USA gave $5,000 to Santorum's 2006 re-election bid and has pledged to campaign aggressively for him.
"We support elected officials who have a proven record of leadership on animal welfare issues and Rick Santorum fits that characteristic precisely," said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society and a Humane USA board member.
His track record supporting animal health issues goes back a decade, said Nancy Perry, also from the Washington-based Humane Society. About the only legislative issue on which Santorum has gone against PETA's view was oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
Santorum isn't the first conservative to support animal issues.
Former Sen. Bob Dole, R-Kan., was an architect of the 1985 amendments of the Animal Welfare Act that required that pain be minimized for laboratory animals. Then-Sen. Bob Smith, R-N.H., took heat for speaking out in 1995 against the use of elephants at a circus on the Capitol grounds.
Sens. John Ensign, R-Nev., and Wayne Allard, R-Colo. -- both veterinarians -- have pushed animal causes such as anti-cockfighting legislation.
Santorum filed an anti-puppy mill bill in 2001 similar to the PAWS bill. It passed the Senate and was part of the 2002 Farm Bill but was deleted before final passage, in part because of opposition from small breeders worried about over-regulation, Santorum said.
The American Kennel Club had opposed the bill in the past, but working with Santorum has addressed more of its concerns, spokeswoman Lisa Peterson said.
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