Blog Archives | Animal Legal Defense Fund
The Case for Tougher Animal Cruelty Laws
Posted by on December 8, 2017
They were sure she was dead.
Bella, the 11 year-old shepherd mix, had been shoved into a garbage bag and beaten with a shovel. Her owner, Michael Gallagher, had first tied a zip-tie around her neck before he began hitting her. When neighbors interceded, and Gallagher fled, they were shocked to see that the garbage bag was moving. Somehow, Bella was still alive.
Although they rushed her to a veterinary hospital, her injuries were too severe — and Bella had to be euthanized.
New York prosecutors pursued the maximum sentence for Gallagher’s crime, after he pleaded guilty to a felony charge of aggravated cruelty to animals.
Believe it or not, Gallagher will spend just four months in county jail for his crime!
Why? Because in New York, as in so many other states, the animal cruelty statutes are in desperate need of updating.
Sadly, the story is the same in states across the country. A patchwork of outdated state laws allows convicted animal abusers to keep their animals, prevents veterinarians from reporting suspected cruelty, and provides no felony provisions for neglect or abandonment. And there are currently no federal laws against these kinds of crimes.
California Becomes First State to Ban Retail Sale of Companion Animals
Posted by Nicole Pallotta, Academic Outreach Manager on December 7, 2017
On October 13, 2017, California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law AB 485, which prohibits pet stores from selling dogs, cats, and rabbits unless they are obtained from a shelter or rescue organization. Although a growing number of jurisdictions have passed similar legislation – including major cities like Chicago, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia – California is the first state to ban the retail sale of companion animals.
Beginning January 1, 2019, California’s new law will prohibit:
…a pet store operator from selling a live dog, cat, or rabbit in a pet store unless the dog, cat, or rabbit was obtained from a public animal control agency or shelter, society for the prevention of cruelty to animals shelter, humane society shelter, or rescue group…The bill would require all sales of dogs and cats authorized by this provision to be in compliance with laws requiring the spaying or neutering of animals, as specified…The bill would make a pet store operator who violates these provisions subject to a civil penalty of $500 [per animal], as specified.
It also expands on a provision in the existing law that “authorizes a public or private shelter to enter into cooperative agreements with animal rescue or adoption organizations regarding dogs and cats” to include rabbits. Notably, the law does not prohibit individuals from purchasing an animal directly from a private breeder.
Laws like California’s are part of a growing movement to combat puppy and kitten mills, large-scale commercial breeding facilities that keep animals in poor conditions while mass-producing them for sale. Retail pet stores that sell live animals source from puppy and kitten mills (or from third party brokers who do) and provide very little information to consumers about the origin of the animals. Federal standards for these facilities are notoriously lax, which was an impetus for California’s new law, the first to regulate the sale of companion animals at the state level. As reported by The New York Times: “A summary and fact sheet about the bill said it was meant to address ‘extremely minimal’ federal standards, such as the requirement that a cage be only six inches larger than the animal it housed and cleaned just once a week.”
Legislative efforts to ban the retail sale of companion animals began in earnest after the passage of the first such law in Albuquerque in 2006. In the decade since, more than 200 cities and counties have passed similar laws. Now, with the first statewide ban having been enacted, we can expect even more momentum on this front.
Unsurprisingly, these laws have not gone without challenge from the pet store and puppy mill industries. But in an important decision issued in September 2017, the Seventh U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Chicago’s ordinance banning the sale of dogs, cats, and rabbits from large commercial breeders. The lawsuit, brought by two Chicago pet stores and a Missouri breeder, argued that Chicago had violated both the Illinois State Constitution, by overstepping its home rule powers, and the U.S. Constitution’s Dormant Commerce Clause, by illegally blocking interstate commerce. A federal judge ruled in favor of the city in 2015, and that decision has now been upheld on appeal.
Animal Legal Defense Fund members responded to action alerts we sent about this bill encouraging its passage, and numerous Student Animal Legal Defense Fund (SALDF) chapters wrote letters to Governor Brown in support. Until they are outlawed completely, the Animal Legal Defense Fund also uses litigation to work toward improved conditions in puppy mills. In a landmark victory in Pennsylvania in 2016, the court struck down exemptions that had significantly weakened state law regulations as applied to puppy mills. The decision restored the integrity of the law and reinstated a comprehensive set of requirements for commercial dog breeders, including prohibitions on metal wire flooring and never letting mother dogs outside to exercise. Last year, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, with the Humane Society of the United States and law firm Locke Lord LLP, also settled a lawsuit against Chicago pet store chain Furry Babies, which is now required to disclose the specific source of its puppies, thereby giving consumers who do not wish to support the cruel puppy mill industry the ability to make an informed choice. In July 2017, the Animal Legal Defense Fund filed a class action lawsuit against Petland, a national pet store chain, and the chain’s Kennesaw, Georgia location. In October 2017, we sued to shut down a puppy mill in Northern California. Finally, the Animal Legal Defense Fund and pro bono attorneys have been fighting for three years to get justice for consumers who unknowingly bought puppy-mill puppies from Barkworks pet stores.
Public awareness has likely contributed to the recent proliferation of legislation prohibiting the sale of companion animals not sourced from a shelter or rescue. Advocates have focused in recent years on exposing the inhumane treatment of animals in puppy and kitten mills – including overcrowded, unsanitary conditions without adequate socialization or exercise, and often lacking appropriate veterinary care, food, and water. As a result, animals bred in these facilities tend to suffer from myriad health and behavior problems. These living conditions, like so many in which animals are exploited, are hidden from public view. But as campaigns to bring these conditions to light continue to be successful, public criticism has mounted regarding pet stores and the cruel puppy mills behind them. As more people choose to adopt rather than buy a companion animal, we can expect to see the notion that animals are sentient beings with inherent value, rather than commodities to be bought and sold, increasingly reflected in our laws.
- Corpuz, Mina. “California becomes the first state to require pet stores to sell rescue animals.” Los Angeles Times. October 13, 2017.
- Hauser, Christine. “California ‘Puppy Mill’ Ban Would Also Cover Kittens and Bunnies.” The New York Times. September 18, 2017.
- FACT SHEET: AB 485 (O’Donnell and Dababneh) Pet Rescue and Adoption Act
- BILL TEXT: AB-485 Pet store operators: dogs, cats, and rabbits. (2017-2018)
Animal Legal Defense Fund: 2017 Year in Review
Posted by on December 7, 2017
The new year is almost here, and it’s time to take stock of all the legal advances we’ve made together for animals in 2017. Victories defeating dangerous Ag-Gag legislation, increasing the pressure on the U.S. Department of Agriculture to uphold the Animal Welfare Act, and assisting police and district attorneys in nearly 100 animal cruelty cases across the country to hold animal abusers accountable are just a few of our accomplishments this year! Watch the new video from our Executive Director Stephen Wells which highlights many of the victories we’ve accomplished together in 2017.
Thank you for your ongoing support. Whether it’s sharing our message on social media, responding to our action alerts, or making the generous donations that enable us to give animals the expert legal team they deserve, our success is all because of you.
25 Animals Rescued from Pennsylvania Ice Cream Shop
Posted by on December 7, 2017
Three years ago, the Animal Legal Defense Fund successfully fought to have Ricki the bear relocated to a sanctuary after being held in miserable conditions for 16 years at Jim Mack’s Ice Cream shop. The settlement agreement also stipulated that the owner would not obtain any more animals. But, in 2017, the ice cream shop violated the settlement agreement. In addition to acquiring peacocks, the shop was keeping other animals in poor conditions in violation of state cruelty laws. We stepped in, and this past weekend, all 25 animals, including alpacas, a llama, emus, peacocks, rabbits, chickens, goats, and a goose, were transferred to rescues. A special thank you to Chenoa Manor, Indraloka Sanctuary, York SPCA, the Pennsylvania State Animal Response Team, and Baker Hostetler for their assistance.
Many thanks to our donors—who made this rescue possible!
Congratulations to the 2017 SALDF Chapters of the Year!
Posted by on December 5, 2017
Congratulations to the New Zealand Otago Faculty of Law and Vermont School of Law Student Animal Legal Defense Fund (SALDF) chapters for winning the 2017 SALDF Chapter of the Year Awards!
The awards celebrate SALDF chapters that are strong voices for animals on campus and in their community and have shown incredible efforts to advance the field of animal law.
SALDF chapters play an important role in the growing field of animal law. Through raising awareness of animal abuse, they show their law school communities that animal protection is a serious social justice issue. SALDF members are future attorneys, legislators and judges who will be influential in changing the law to better protect animals.
The Otago SALDF chapter’s work covered a broad spectrum of issues across the field of animal law. The chapter campaigned strongly against their university’s new animal research facility, and even obtained student representation on the university’s Animal Use & Compliance Steering Group. The chapter held many events, including a plant-based sausage sizzle, a talk on careers in animal law, and its most popular Animal Law Week ever, which included events on alternatives to animal testing, animal sentience, legal protection of dolphins, the link between slaughterhouses and violent crime, and the legal rights of vegans. Chapter members also participated in the inaugural New Zealand Animal Law Conference.
The Vermont SALDF chapter also had an incredibly successful year. Over 100 students attended their annual Vegan Thanksgiving event. The chapter held a symposium on the SALDF Program Guide topic of captive wild animals, a speaker event and movie night on the plight of pit bulls, and got active locally by drafting a letter to the Montreal mayor opposing its breed ban. The chapter also supported the Vermont animal protection community by volunteering at a farmed animal sanctuary and raising over $500 for a local humane society through its “Paws-4-Beer” fundraiser.
Thank you to the chapters that applied for this year’s award and to all of our SALDF chapters for your dedication to and hard work for the animals!
Washington, D.C., Enacts Legislation to Protect Companion Animals in Cold Weather
Posted by Nicole Pallotta, Academic Outreach Manager on December 1, 2017
As winter approaches, many caring people wonder what legal protections exist for companion animals left outside in very cold weather. Although most guardians are cognizant of the need to bring animals indoors when the temperature drops, many animals still suffer and freeze to death after being left out in the cold. Each state has an animal cruelty law under which an owner could potentially be charged for mistreatment, but some also have provisions that directly address extreme weather. This year has witnessed a tremendous increase in social awareness about the issue of dogs in hot cars, and with it a flurry of new laws protecting Good Samaritans who take action to rescue an animal from a closed vehicle. There are currently few laws that specifically address the problem of animals left outside in cold weather, but Washington, D.C., has recently passed one of the strongest in the nation.
On Oct. 24, 2017, District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser signed into law the Standard of Care for Animals Amendment Act of 2017, which “establishes under what extreme weather conditions that keeping animals outside would constitute cruelty to animals.” It significantly improves the district’s animal protection laws by mandating specific standards of adequate care and empowering humane officers to enforce them.
According to the Humane Rescue Alliance, which helped craft this legislation, highlights of the amendment include the following:
- Provides Humane Rescue Alliance officers with the authority to issue citations and warnings in cases of intentional or grossly negligent harm to an animal.
- Defines “adequate shelter.” When the temperature is at or below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, “adequate shelter” shall mean that a the dog has access to a shelter large enough for the dog to stand up and turn around, that has an entrance covered by a flexible wind-proofing material or self-closing door, that contains a platform for the dog at least 4 inches off the ground, and that contains dry bedding, which must consist of an insulating material that does not retain moisture, such as straw, of sufficient depth for the dog to burrow. When the temperature is at or above 80 degrees Fahrenheit, “adequate shelter” shall additionally mean that a dog has access to a shelter shaded by trees, a roof, a tarp, or a tarp-like device.
- Clarifies that an animal cannot be outdoors for more than 15 minutes during periods of extreme weather without human accompaniment or adequate shelter. Extreme weather means temperatures below 32 degrees Fahrenheit or above 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
The amount of detail provided in the definition of “adequate shelter” in both cold and hot weather is notable, as is mandating a maximum amount of time an animal may be left outside unaccompanied. Such clarity is rare among similar laws, which are often vague and lack specific standards of care. This makes it difficult to determine what constitutes criminal cruelty or neglect, which in turn creates difficulties for law enforcement and can be an obstacle to actually using the law to help an animal in distress. The clarity provided in this amendment should be used as a model for other jurisdictions looking to improve their animal protection laws. (If you are curious how your state’s animal protection laws compare to those in other states, see the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s annual rankings report here.)
The district’s new law originated with a 90-day emergency bill, the Extreme Weather Protection for Animals Act of 2017, which was passed in February 2017 due to an outpouring of public concern about a pit bull named Momma who was left outside in freezing temperatures for weeks. Neighbors tried to help the dog to no avail; despite repeated complaints to the city, Momma received no help. The emergency bill specified what actions must be taken to help animals like Momma left outside in frigid temperatures. Unfortunately the emergency law was not able to help this particular dog, whose owner removed her from the premises after a local news station reported on her situation. But the 90-day provision that Momma’s plight inspired is now a permanent law that can be used to help neglected animals like her in the future.
According to Councilmember Brandon Todd, who introduced the legislation after learning about Momma’s mistreatment:
“This comprehensive animal-welfare bill creates a ‘Standard of Care’ that all pet owners must comply with – something brand new for the District. By providing the authority necessary to holistically protect the health and safety of District animals, we can prevent others from suffering like Momma, a Petworth pit bull left outdoors in frigid temperatures whose inhumane treatment triggered an outpouring of concern and my introduction of an earlier version of this legislation.”
Strong animal protection laws are an important tool to safeguard animals’ wellbeing. Also crucial, especially to prevent tragedies, is public outreach and education. Some people who keep companion animals are intentionally negligent, while others are simply unaware. As such, the district’s law also contains provisions for an Animal Education and Outreach Fund, funded by dog license fees, to provide low-cost spay and neuter services and implement “an educational program for animal owners regarding pet care and safety, specifically in extreme weather conditions or emergencies, and the laws relating to pet ownership.”
Besides strong animal protection laws and public education, there is another important component to preventing animal suffering: you. Neglected animals depend on the involvement of caring community members. The fact that concerned neighbors could not help Momma when she was left outside to suffer in the cold is distressing. However, their efforts raised awareness and resulted in the passage of one of the strongest cold weather laws in the nation. If you see an animal in distress, including one who has been left outside in frigid temperatures this winter, you should document the conditions, preferably by taking photographs and/or video, and call your local law enforcement or animal control. For more information, see the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s resource: “How to help a neighbor’s neglected animal.”
- Text of Standard of Care for Animals Amendment Act of 2017. Signed October 24, 2017.
- Humane Rescue Alliance. “DC Council Passes Standard of Care for Animals Amendment Act of 2017” [Press Release]. October 3, 2017.
- Schweitzer, Ally. “How ‘Momma’ The Petworth Pitbull May Bring Change To D.C. Animal Cruelty Laws.” WAMU. January 18, 2017.
- “A frozen heart: A dog left outside in Freezing temperatures, frustrated neighbors and a city agency that can’t seem to help.” [Blog post.] Petworth News. January 9, 2017.
Animal Forward Academic Institutions
Posted by on November 30, 2017
Colleges and universities are ideal places for students to explore interests, values and beliefs while learning more about the world around them. In a welcome trend, institutions of higher learning are beginning to offer increased opportunities for students to better understand the use of animals in today’s society and how these uses can be harmful and exploitative. Humane education has become popular for school-aged children and is vital in supporting a future generation that is kind to all animals. However, humane education is also important for college students, who are often on their own for the first time and interested in learning how to make a positive difference in the world.
Healthline, an online publication dedicated to providing information on health and wellness topics, recently posted an article “The Best Universities for Vegan Eating.” This list, created with help from the Animal Legal Defense Fund, mentions not only universities that offer great options for plant-based food, but that do so much more. It lists universities that offer courses on animal issues (including animal law), student clubs devoted to animal protection, community gardens that promote plant-based eating, and host speakers who are known for their animal advocacy. For example, several universities like Yale University and University of California San Diego have Meatless Mondays in their cafeteria, while others like Pacific University and Cornell University offer undergraduate courses on animal topics. Almost every school mentioned also offers an animal law course at their respective law school.
In addition to animal law courses, many of these universities have law schools with active Student Animal Legal Defense Fund (SALDF) chapters. There are currently 220 chapters in the United States and internationally. SALDF chapters are run by law students and host speakers and fundraisers, volunteer in their communities, organize educational events for students and faculty, and promote the field of animal law within the legal community. At the undergraduate level, these universities often have student-run clubs that focus on animal issues.
The Animal Legal Defense Fund applauds Healthline for putting together a list of great schools that are welcoming of animal protection efforts by students and faculty alike. Together, we can inspire and empower the next generation of animal advocates to create a better world for everyone.
UPDATE: Fight the Border Wall’s Threat to Animals
Posted by on November 22, 2017
This week the Animal Legal Defense Fund called on a federal court to rule that current plans for a U.S. border wall are illegal. We filed a summary judgment motion laying out the overwhelming case that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) illegally sidestepped important environmental and animal protection laws in its plans to construct a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico.
A human-made barrier on the scale of the proposed border wall would have a serious impact on animals. Such a structure would cause immediate and long-term harm to countless species, including the more than 100 endangered or threatened species living along the border. Animal families would be divided, breeding and migratory patterns would be disrupted, and many species like Mexican gray wolves, jaguars, and ocelots may be driven to extinction. As the nation’s preeminent legal advocacy organization for animals, the Animal Legal Defense Fund will not stand for a government plan that so plainly threatens animals and violates the law.
We first filed suit in September 2017, joining a coalition of wildlife protection groups to protect animals and enforce adherence to critical laws like the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the Migratory Bird Conservation Act.
Our motion for summary judgment demonstrates that the government’s current plans for a border wall are an illegal use of the 2005 REAL ID Act, which deals with identification documents as well as immigration issues. It granted DHS extraordinary powers to waive a variety of laws, including those that offer vital protections for the environment and endangered species. The power to waive so many laws was granted specifically to ensure the completion of certain sections of fencing, pursuant to 1996 and 2005 mandates to construct a physical barrier along particular stretches of the border. Now DHS is invoking those extraordinary waiver powers for projects far beyond the clearly intended scope of the REAL ID Act.
Our motion details the many ways DHS’s invocation of these waivers is illegal. In addition to the waivers not being justified in the context of the REAL ID Act, they also violate the Administrative Procedure Act. Even beyond that, under the government’s interpretation, the REAL ID Act’s waiver-granting power would be unconstitutional in itself, rendering its application to the border wall plan void.
We urge the court to use its judicial authority to declare DHS’s conduct illegal and void.
The Animal Legal Defense Fund is committed to challenging this threat to animals, and will continue to update you on the case’s progress. To read more about this case and why a border wall would have a devastating effect on wildlife and the ecosystem, please read The Border Wall: Disastrous for Wildlife.
Urgent: Protect Wildlife from Trophy Hunters
Posted by on November 20, 2017
Wildlife, including some of the most endangered species on the planet, are under attack from trophy hunters. We need your help to protect them.
The U.S. Department of Interior is creating and seeking nominations for the International Wildlife Conservation Council. Despite its name, this council is about anything but conservation. Instead, the council will advise the government on the “benefits” of U.S. citizens traveling to foreign countries to hunt animals.
Pro-hunting groups have claimed for years that hunting supports wildlife conservation. It doesn’t. Hunting only benefits the hunter and the commercial interests of hunting companies. Your action is critical. Elephants and other endangered species need to be protected.
To make matters worse, you can only submit a comment for a short period of time – through November 24, right after the Thanksgiving holiday. This isn’t an accident. It’s a deliberate attempt to push through a dangerous policy that hurts animals.
We can’t let the hunting industry get away with this. Please join us in telling the Department of Interior that we want science informing our wildlife policies, not special interest groups.
The comment window is now CLOSED.
Illinois and New York Pass First Statewide Bans on the Use of Elephants in Entertainment
Posted by Nicole Pallotta, Academic Outreach Manager on November 17, 2017
[It] is in the best interest of the state that the use of elephants in entertainment be prohibited, and that the state use its authority to aid in the protection and welfare of these animals. – State of New York S2098B Bill Text (Elephant Protection Act)
As public sentiment continues to turn against forcing wild animals to perform in entertainment acts, a flurry of new legislation has been enacted across the U.S. that reflects this attitude change. Although several cities and counties have passed legislation prohibiting wild animal performances, Illinois recently enacted the first statewide ban on the use of elephants in traveling acts. New York soon followed suit, becoming the second state to prohibit the use of elephants in entertainment acts.
Illinois’s SB 1342, signed by Governor Bruce Rauner in August 2017 and effective January 1, 2018, amends the state’s Criminal Code to make it unlawful to use an elephant in a traveling act, defined as any “undertaking where animals are require to perform tricks, give rides, or act as accompaniments for entertainment, amusement , or benefit of a live audience.” The new section reads:
A person commits unlawful use of an elephant in a traveling animal act when he or she knowingly allows for the participation of an African elephant (Loxodonta Africana) or Asian elephant (Elephas maximus) protected under the federal Endangered Species Act of 1973 in a traveling animal act. (c) This Section does not apply to an exhibition of elephants at a non-mobile, permanent institution, or other facility. (d) Sentence. Unlawful use of an elephant in a traveling animal act is a Class A misdemeanor.
Soon after, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo signed New York’s SB 2098B, also known as the “Elephant Protection Act,” into law on October 19, 2017. It amends the state’s Agriculture and Markets Law and its Environmental Conservation Law to prohibit the use of elephants in entertainment acts. The New York law does not specifying “traveling” acts but expressly exempts accredited zoos and aquariums. It takes effect in two years. In contrast to the Illinois law, which makes violation a Class A misdemeanor, the New York law provides a civil penalty of up to $1,000 for each violation because offenses against animals are not part of New York’s Penal Code.
The legislation was drafted by undergraduate students in Pace University’s Environmental Policy Clinic, who also lobbied for its passage and collected student signatures in support of the bill. Several New York chapters of the Student Animal Legal Defense Fund submitted letters in support of the bill to Governor Cuomo over the summer.
New York’s law contains a strongly worded “legislative findings” section that clearly enumerates the many problems faced by elephants used in entertainment performances, concluding not only that New York should use its authority to help protect elephants but also that prohibiting their use in entertainment is in the state’s best interest. It reads:
The legislature hereby finds that…it is widely recognized that elephants used for entertainment purposes (“entertainment elephants”) suffer physical and psychological harm due to the living conditions and treatment to which they are subjected, resulting in increased mortality with life spans only one half as long as wild elephants; entertainment elephants are trained with cruel techniques that involve the use of objects to control and punish, such as bullhooks, electric shocks, metal bars, whips, chaining, and other forms of physical restriction and painful coercion; entertainment elephants live in conditions that are in no way similar to their natural habitat, including an unnatural diet, restricted movement, inappropriate housing and a hostile climate; entertainment elephants are subjected to confinement and social isolation, leading to physiological, behavioral and psychological impairments; entertainment elephants transported into the state spend a significant portion of their lives inside trucks, trains or trailers, enduring additional physical restrictions and social isolation; the use of elephants in entertainment provides a false and inaccurate educational experience for children and adults, often including performance tricks that are never executed by elephants in the wild and that are stressful or harmful to the animal; and it is in the best interest of the state that the use of elephants in entertainment be prohibited, and that the state use its authority to aid in the protection and welfare of these animals.
This statement reflects the growing awareness that elephants suffer not only physically but also psychologically in captivity. Although these laws could be made stronger by being more inclusive and covering all wild animals in entertainment, not just elephants (for example, Santa Fe’s recent law also includes bears and tigers) – they are a step in the right direction and a harbinger of a cultural shift that is well underway regarding wild animals in captivity.
In particular, the past few years have seen a stark change in attitudes regarding the acceptability of forcing wild animals to perform unnatural behaviors for amusement and profit. Multiple factors have contributed to this shift in public opinion, but many credit the 2013 documentary Blackfish as being a significant catalyst. In what is commonly referred to as “the Blackfish Effect,” this acclaimed documentary shined a spotlight on the inherent cruelty of keeping orcas in captivity and resulted in an outcry for their release from SeaWorld. Following the film’s success, SeaWorld’s profits and attendance plummeted, and the corporation eventually announced it would discontinue both breeding captive orcas and using them in entertainment shows. In 2016, the California legislature enacted the California Orca Protection Act, codifying SeaWorld’s new company policy into law. The Animal Legal Defense Fund is currently working on similar legislation in Florida.
Blackfish’s 2013 release tapped into growing public unease about keeping large mammals in captivity, especially when they are forced to perform in unnatural entertainment acts. In addition to aquatic theme parks like SeaWorld, circuses have come under increased scrutiny in recent years, with momentum increasing in 2017.
In January 2017, amid sluggish ticket sales and mounting public criticism, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus permanently shut down after operating for almost 150 years, following a 2015 announcement it would stop using elephants in its performances by 2018. Just as the California Orca Protection Act came on the heels of SeaWorld’s decline, the movement to ban circuses has only accelerated since Ringling went out of business. The bans in Illinois and New York are just the latest examples of a national legislative trend.
In June 2017, the New York City Council voted to prohibit the use of all wild animals in circus performances, creating a broader law than the statewide ban, which applies only to elephants. This added NYC to the growing list of major cities that have banned the use of wild animals in entertainment, including San Francisco in 2015 (whose strong law includes film shoots). In April of this year, the Los Angeles City Council approved a similar ban.
With bans on the use of elephants in circuses reaching beyond the local to the state level, we are moving closer to codifying into law changing social norms about using animals in entertainment. We can expect to see similar laws passed moving forward as the cruel practices used to force wild animals to perform for human amusement – and the lies told by the corporations that profit from this exploitation – continue to be revealed by undercover investigations and poignant documentaries like Blackfish.
Beyond the abusive training methods that are necessary to compel wild animals to perform for us, keeping large intelligent animals such as elephants and orcas in captivity – even if they are not forced to do tricks – causes them inherent physical and psychological harm. As demonstrated by facts brought to light in recent lawsuits against large, well-established zoos like those in Los Angeles and San Antonio, captivity in itself is often detrimental to an animal’s wellbeing, frequently resulting in significant suffering and premature death. The idea that animals exist to be held captive for our gaze and amusement, rather than as subjects of their own lives, is thankfully becoming more antiquated with each passing day. Recent laws like those passed in Illinois and New York are just the beginning.
- Daly, Natasha. “Why All of America’s Circus Animals Could Soon be Free.” National Geographic. May 20, 2017.
- Blain, Glenn. “Elephants officially banned from circuses in New York.” New York Daily News. October 19, 2017.
- Ruppenthal, Alex. “Circus Elephants to Take Final Bow in Illinois.” Chicago Tonight. August 14, 2017.
- New York State Senate Bill S2098B.
- Illinois General Assembly Bill SB1342.
Celebrating the 2017 Advancement in Animal Law Pro Bono Achievement Award Winners
Posted by on November 8, 2017
This past Saturday, the Animal Legal Defense Fund held its second annual Cruise for a Cause. During the event, we honored the dedicated legal professionals and law firms who help us achieve our mission to the protect the lives and advance the interests of animals through the legal system. Our 2017 Advancement in Animal Law Pro Bono Achievement Awards recognize the many legal professionals across the country who have contributed to our life-saving work.
Our honorees helped contribute to the more than 12,500 total pro bono hours donated to our work last year. They assisted on a wide range of cases including our work on behalf of Lucky, an Asian elephant held at the San Antonio Zoo, our lawsuit to free four tigers being held in deplorable conditions in an aquarium in Houston, Texas, and our efforts to stop the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) from rubberstamping license renewals of roadside zoos it knows are not in compliance with the Animal Welfare Act.
During the cruise, Tom Linney, Pro Bono Director, shared with guests some of the accomplishments of our Pro Bono Achievement Award winners in the past year. These attorneys and firms provided invaluable assistance on numerous cases such as:
- A successful lawsuit regarding the disclosure of public records related to taxpayer-funded experiments on infant monkeys that cause extreme suffering
- A class action lawsuit against the Barkworks pet store chain alleging Barkworks violated California consumer protection laws by tricking patrons into buying sick dogs sourced from puppy mills
- A major victory against foie gras when the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated the landmark California law banning its sale
- Our lawsuit against Monterey County, California, arguing that its contract with USDA’s Wildlife Services violated the California Environmental Quality Act because the county failed to assess the program’s environmental impacts
- Our efforts to shut down a coyote-killing contest in Wyoming. In October, a judge issued a partial ruling in favor of the Animal Legal Defense Fund finding some of the activities associated with the event constituted illegal gambling.
These are just a few highlights of the incredible work that our pro bono network provides every year. The following is a full list of the law firms recognized in our 2017 Advancement in Animal Law Pro Bono Achievement Awards:
Capstone Law APC
Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher
Irvine & Conner
Laffey, Leitner & Goode
Lugenbuhl, Wheaton, Peck, Rankin & Hubbard
Sandefer & Woolsey Trial Lawyers
Shearman & Sterling
Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom
Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati
Thank you to all our award winners, and we look forward to the great work we will accomplish together in 2018!
Cruise for a Cause 2017
Posted by on November 7, 2017
On Saturday, Nov. 4, 2017 the Animal Legal Defense Fund hosted our second annual Cruise for a Cause. We recounted all of our victories for animals over the past year, discussed our plans for 2018, and enjoyed the company of fellow animal advocates—all against the beautiful backdrop of Marina del Rey. Thanks to the top-notch emcee skills of our longtime friend and award-winning actor and comedian Stephen Sorrentino, the evening was a huge success! Fighting for animals day in and day out is challenging work, so we are extremely grateful to everyone who joined us to take a moment to celebrate everything the Animal Legal Defense Fund has accomplished.
For more of our favorite moments visit the Cruise for a Cause 2017 photo gallery.
We’re Working on a Major Change for Farmed Animals!
Posted by on November 3, 2017
The Animal Legal Defense Fund is proud to join Prevent Cruelty California. This coalition is working to place a critical measure on the November 2018 ballot to upgrade California’s laws relating to the extreme confinement of farm animals. This measure is a basic way to protect some of the most abused animals in the state. It will prevent farmed animals in California from being crammed into cages so small that some animals can’t stand up or turn around. It will also ensure that food items sold in California are compliant with these modest standards, forcing out-of-state producers to change their inhumane practices, too.
Other states and food retailers have already adopted cage-free standards. It’s time for California to do the same.
If you live in California, we need your help! To make the measure successful, Prevent Cruelty California needs to collect approximately 365,000 signatures by March 2018 to be added to the November 2018 ballot.
You can sign up to volunteer as a signature collector, and join us at a kickoff event for the ballot initiative. Staff from the Animal Legal Defense Fund will be at several events, and we hope to see you there!
Join us at these events:
Animal Legal Defense Fund Downtown Los Angeles Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 11 at 2 p.m.
- San Francisco Kickoff: Monday, Nov. 13 at 6 p.m.
- Santa Barbara: Thursday, Nov. 16th at 6 p.m.
- Anaheim/Orange County Kickoff: Sunday, Nov. 19 at 4 p.m.
- Ventura Kickoff: Wednesday, Nov. 29 at 6 p.m.
- Marin County Kickoff: Thursday, Nov. 30 at 6 p.m.
- West Hollywood Kickoff: Thursday, Dec. 7 at 6 p.m.
To RSVP and see more kickoff event dates and see more kickoff events, visit https://preventcrueltyca.com/kickoffs.
New Voices in Animal Law Writing Contest: Emily Bowen
Posted by on October 30, 2017
Emily Bowen, 2L at Ohio State Univ. Moritz College of Law, is the winner of our first New Voices in Animal Law Writing Contest! Her submission, “Friend,” beautifully details how Tilikum, an orca held at SeaWorld and the subject of the documentary “Blackfish,” impacted her animal advocacy.
The Animal Legal Defense Fund is working to end orca captivity in Florida and recently proposed the Florida Orca Protection Act in conjunction with a coalition of animal protection, environmental, and marine conservation groups. The Florida Orca Protection Act would prohibit breeding captive orcas, making the orcas currently in captivity the last generation to be exploited. Additionally, the Animal Legal Defense Fund continues to fight on behalf of Lolita – a long suffering orca held alone in a cramped tank in the Miami Seaquarium. Read more about Lolita and our lawsuit alleging her cruel treatment violates the Endangered Species Act here.
When I was seven, I had a giant poster in my room above my bed with all the different species of whales. It was called “Whales of the World” and reading the fact blurbs under each of the tails was better than counting sheep. Like most children, the Bottlenose dolphin and the orca were the two that always stood out to me. I was obsessed with movies like Flipper and Free Willy, and to this day, my brother can quote parts of Flipper because of how often I asked him to watch it with me.
When I was nine, my uncle began dating a woman who worked as a dolphin trainer at SeaWorld, San Diego. I have pictures of my brother and I with our tiny hands on the back of a shiny, grey, Bottlenose dolphin that has slid–out onto the side of the tank. We attended the Shamu show, and I remember wanting so desperately to be that trainer in the sleek, black wetsuit perched atop Shamu’s nose as he sped around the tank. We sat in the “splash zone” and screamed gleefully when our seats lived up to their name.
When I was fifteen I read The Life of Pi, and for the first time I began to battle with the ethical issues of zoos and aquariums. In the book, Pi Patel is the son of a zoo owner and the author mentions that animals in zoos are happier than those who must struggle to survive in their natural habitats. The book is fiction; still, this struck me as an interesting notion. By this time, I had been to my local zoo at least four or five times, and happy is not the word I would have used for the panting tiger languishing in the dirt under one of the three trees in the enclosure.
When I was twenty, my DVR accidentally recorded the first half of the documentary Blackfish. After two minutes of watching, I quickly programed the DVR to record the second half, as well. My emotions ran the gamut as I watched scenes of calves being stolen from their mothers and 10,000 pound adult orcas forced to spend their lives in concrete cells so small that they were unable to turn around. Directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite, the documentary focused primarily on one orca- Tilikum. In Chinook, a Pacific Northwest jargon, Tilikum means friend.¹
That night, on November 3, 2013, I shared the Blackfish trailer on my Facebook page. This was an insignificant step, but my anger required me to take some sort of action, no matter how small. I found petitions online- “Free Tilikum” and “End Whale Captivity.” I signed them all and pestered my family and friends to sign them. I changed my cover photo on Facebook to a picture of an orca in the wild with the Albert Einstein quote, “Any society which does not insist upon respect for all life must necessarily decay.” I told anyone and everyone who would listen about the average life-span of a wild orca compared to a captive orca. I bombarded my friends with facts about the emotional intelligence of orcas and familial pod structures. I devoured orca documentaries on Netflix and closely followed the impact of Blackfish on SeaWorld stock and popularity.
Still, Tilikum floated in his bathtub.
Tilikum was first captured off the coast of Iceland as a young two-year old in 1983. To fully understand the impact of this capture on Tilikum, one must first know a little bit about orcas.
The orca population spans across every ocean, but each community of orcas stay within their general location. Orcas living in the Pacific Northwest never interact with those living in the Antarctic, and as a result, those pods have distinct behaviors, acoustics, and food preferences. Even pods within the same general location have distinct dialects, and tend to avoid each other. Communities of orcas have become so different that they developed to be genetically unique. Within their tight-knit families, orcas are highly social and will typically stay with their pods for their entire lives. These pods are led by a matriarch and range from two to fifteen animals. Given the size of the orca brain, scientists rank them as incredibly intelligent, and possibly even more emotionally complex than humans. Since orcas are so socially dependent, being separated from their pods causes severe stress and emotional pain.²
After being ripped from his family, Tilikum spent a year at a marine park before being transferred to Sealand.³ At Sealand, Tilikum shared a tank with two older, female orcas and was often found bloodied from teeth marks. It is likely that Tilikum and the other orcas vocalized differently and one can equate the situation to being kidnapped and held in a room with people who speak Russian when you only speak French. The Blackfish documentary follows the life of Tilikum and chronicles the deaths of three people who were attacked by him. The documentary made it clear that Tilikum’s aggressiveness was a product of unbearable boredom and psychosis brought on by confinement in an unnatural and insufficient habitat. As the largest orca in captivity, Tilikum was particularly effected by the shallow tanks and quickly developed the collapsed dorsal fin that only happens to whales in captivity because of their unnatural diet and swimming in endless circles.⁴
Tilikum suffered for twenty-five years for SeaWorld’s financial gain and his story devastated and infuriated me. I could not stop thinking about the mental and physical torture that he was enduring daily. I wanted to make a significant contribution to ending whale captivity, but I was living in Colorado at the time, so picketing at the gates of a SeaWorld was not an option. I soon realized that, short of breaking into SeaWorld and carting Tilikum off to the ocean myself, the only way to truly impact the treatment of captive animals was through legal measures.
My endless Google searches quickly uncovered the 2011 lawsuit brought by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) against SeaWorld, in which PETA argued that SeaWorld’s despicable treatment of the orcas was a violation of the Thirteenth Amendment.⁵ Tilikum was named as one of the five plaintiffs in the case. At the time of my discovery, I was still an undergraduate with little to no knowledge of the law. To me, a constitutional argument on what seemed like a cut and dry moral issue felt like a fool-proof win. Well, unfortunately for Tilikum, the court had a less simplistic view and ruled in favor of SeaWorld. Whether PETA’s argument was sound or not, the notion that one could bring a lawsuit on behalf of an animal was eye-opening for me. Prior to this point, the only animal cases I had ever encountered were misdemeanor vicious dog cases that typically featured an abused dog who had lashed out. Even in those instances, the dog was not a party in the case. In 2013, I was still three years away from attending law school and in my ignorance, I had not realized that animal rights law was anything more than a meaningful hobby.
The more research I conducted, the more I realized that being an animal rights lawyer, whether part-time or full-time, was a viable career option. This revelation made my heart sing. After all, it is rare in this day and age that one’s passions and one’s career commingle. I also learned that there is more than one legal avenue to achieve positive change for an animal or a species. For example, while PETA chose a constitutional tactic, a more recent case against SeaWorld is for false advertising.⁶ This case was brought by four San Francisco plaintiffs who say that they purchased entry tickets to SeaWorld because they were under the impression that the company was focused on marine conservation and animal welfare. The plaintiffs claim that they were deceived by the theme park’s advertising, specifically in relation to the killer whales.⁷ On January 30, 2017, just twenty-four days after Tilikum’s death, the judge in the case denied SeaWorld’s motion to dismiss.⁸ This case taught me that being a legal advocate for animals could come in a multitude of different forms and that direct representation is not the only way to make a difference.
Tilikum’s story sparked a national outrage that has led to small victories like the pending false advertising lawsuit. Tilikum’s story also resonated with me and has followed me into my legal career. It has been four years since the night I sat on my parents’ couch with tears in my eyes as I watched images of Tilikum bobbing listlessly in his artificial prison. I am now a 2L attending The Ohio State University Moritz College of Law and prior to the start of my second semester of 1L year, Tilikum died on January 6, 2017. His death was a poignant and timely reminder that I have a duty to use my future knowledge and status to assist all creatures. No animal should endure such suffering at the hands of humans, and the thought of how many long, lonely nights Tilikum spent in his confinement made his death a bitter relief.
Seeing the change that has already occurred because of Tilikum has been one of the driving forces behind my continued passion for animal rights law. For example, SeaWorld’s greed and complete disregard for the welfare of the animals was exposed and they have been forced to reevaluate their actions. This year, SeaWorld announced that they would be ending their captive breeding program of orcas. This kind of impact is one that every law student dreams of as they lay drooling on top of their Torts book. To be able to have a real, significant effect on the world would be worth so much more than simply pursuing financial wealth. To me, the road to respect for all creatures seems to be arduous and endless, but animals like Tilikum are a perfect reminder of why animal rights attorneys are so necessary. That, and animals cannot represent themselves in court.
As a continuously busy law student, I sometimes struggle to remember why I wanted to pursue a future in the legal field. Then I see a news article about an animal being exploited for human greed and I am able to refocus. I eagerly look forward to the day when I can wield the law on behalf of the voiceless and forgotten animals. Whether I contribute to the animal rights field as a full-time attorney or by taking pro bono cases, I am confident that I will be able to assist animals like Tilikum in a variety of ways.
I have grown in height and in knowledge since I was a seven-year old with a whale poster above my bed. Fortunately, my passion for animals has also grown. Someday, I hope that animal rights lawyers will have achieved freedom for all captive animals. In that future, I will take my children to see live orcas, but the view will be from a boat with ocean water lapping against the hull. I will point to the perfectly straight dorsal fins gliding through a limitless habitat and I will tell my children that this is what it means to be a friend.
About Emily Bowen:
Originally from Colorado, Emily and her husband moved to Ohio to pursue separate graduate degrees. As an avid animal lover, Emily was looking for a way to get involved after surviving 1L year, so she joined the Moritz College of Law SALDF chapter. As vice president, she is working to expand the chapter and to make it a more prominent part of the Columbus community. Emily isn’t sure what specific area of law she intends to practice after graduation, but she is certain that she will use her degree to make a positive impact on animal rights.
¹ Martin Evans, The Story Behind Tilikum the Killer Whale, THE TELEGRAPH (Feb. 26, 2010,
9:41 AM), http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/7322889/The-storybehind-
² Facts About Orcas, WHALES AND DOLPHIN CONSERVATION, http://us.whales.org/wdc-inaction/
³ Philip Hoare, Blackfish: When Killer Whales Attack, THE TELEGRAPH (June 5, 2016, 9:00 AM),
⁴ Orca Dorsal Fin Controversy–Experts vs. Seaworld, OCEAN ADVOCATE (April 16, 2013),
⁵ PETA Sues SeaWorld for Violating Orca’s Constitutional Rights, PEOPLE FOR ETHICAL
TREATMENT OF ANIMALS (Oct. 25, 2011), https://www.peta.org/blog/peta-sues-seaworldviolating-
⁶ Anderson v. Seaworld Parks & Entm’t, Inc., 132 F. Supp. 3d 1156, 1156 (N.D. Cal. 2015).
⁷ Id. at 1159.
Inaugural Student Convention Energizes the Future of Animal Law
Posted by on October 27, 2017
The first annual Animal Legal Defense Fund Student Convention hosted over 70 law students from all over the world on October 13, 2017 in Portland, Oregon! The Student Convention provided Student Animal Legal Defense Fund (SALDF) members opportunities to meet and mingle before the kick-off reception for the 25th Animal Law Conference, co-presented by the Animal Legal Defense Fund, the Center for Animal Law Studies at Lewis & Clark Law School, and the Lewis & Clark SALDF chapter. There are now 220 SALDF chapters in the United States and internationally and these chapters consist of law students dedicated to improving the lives and advancing the interests of animals through the legal system. Chapters host speaker events, plan volunteer trips, lobby their state representatives, and so much more! Representatives from 56 SALDF chapters from the United States, Canada, India, the United Kingdom, and New Zealand were welcomed with a delicious plant-based breakfast options and gorgeous views at the top floor of the Hilton Downtown Portland.
Helping Animals in Any Career
For the first event, students gathered for a career panel with experts in animal law. The career panel featured professionals with diverse backgrounds and careers to show students their many options for post-graduate plans. The overall theme of the career panel was to create opportunities for yourself when you notice gaps and to not feel limited by the mindset that you must work at a non-profit to make lasting change on behalf of animals. Some of the speakers spent years doing amazing pro bono work before finding a position working exclusively with animals, such as through a solo practice. Another literally wrote her own job description to ensure that animals were being protected in her district attorney’s office. One speaker discussed the ways in which her legal education helps her every single day, even though she doesn’t practice law. There are also opportunities to teach and lead the next generation of animal law attorneys. And those who do work at a non-profit discussed the ways they landed their positions.
“The speakers all had positive outlooks, were full of empowerment, and made me hopeful for a future that is cruelty free. I learned that we have a long way to go, but together we are getting there!” said Laurel Tallent, a 2L at Florida State University College of Law. It is this hopeful curiosity among law students that made the career panel, and Student Convention overall, so successful.
Law Students Share Their Research
After an inspiring career panel, students had the opportunity to hear from their peers. Earlier this year, the Animal Legal Defense Fund put out a call for papers for the second annual Law Student Scholarship Panel. This year had a specific focus on factory farm issues. Students presented winning submissions on topics like the effect of factory farms on communities of color in North Carolina, the problem with labeling and false advertising in the egg industry, and a comparative analysis of the US and EU policies on animal welfare. It was inspiring to listen to the incredible work being done by students on such important topics within animal law. Students truly are the next generation of animal law attorneys and their accomplishments so early into their careers speak volumes on what will they will achieve in the years to come.
A Message to Mend the World
A special keynote by Joyce Tischler, founder and general counsel of the Animal Legal Defense Fund, was the highlight of lunch. Joyce detailed her personal story of the creation and formalization of animal law and left students with a favorite phrase: Tikkun Olam, a concept from Judaism which means mending the world. “This concept encourages each of us to stretch our hearts and embrace more of this world. To stand beside the wounded and the defenseless, to embrace those who suffer, and to acknowledge and reach out to those who are ignored or abused,” Joyce explained. It was an unforgettable moment to see every single person in the room enthralled with her words and ready to do what they can to mend the world.
Joyce ended her talk by recognizing two SALDF chapters that have shown incredible efforts in advancing the field of animal law and advocating for animals through original projects and initiatives. Both Vermont Law School and University of Otago Faculty of Law were presented the Chapter of the Year Award in celebration of their recent achievements. We applaud their dedication to the field of animal law!
The Future of Animal Law is Strong
The Student Convention concluded with a chance for SALDF members to share ideas, concerns, and ask questions during the annual SALDF Summit. This is a safe space for students to dig deep and discuss difficult topics regarding advocacy efforts and ways to encourage their student body to care about animal issues.
“I felt like the Student Convention was a special moment for those of us studying animal law. We got to meet each other, collaborate, and share our ideas all with the sincere purpose of helping each other. It was inspiring, and I genuinely mean that. Although I haven’t felt unmotivated to study animal law, it definitely reinvigorated my passion for getting out there and doing what I can to help animals. Making the connections with other students was also a great opportunity that I don’t think I would have gotten elsewhere.” said Madison Steffey, a 1L at Lewis & Clark Law School. It was a very rewarding experience listening to all the great things that chapters have already accomplished this year and plan to do in the near future. It was also inspiring to see how SALDF members from different chapters empowered each other; whether it was giving advice, sharing personal experiences, or sympathizing with others’ concerns, the students really came together to unite their efforts in creating a better world for animals.
We are already looking forward to next year, and we hope to see even more students join us for a day just for them!