Blog Archives | Animal Legal Defense Fund

2018 New Voices in Animal Law Writing Contest: Laurel Tallent

Posted by on June 8, 2018

Laurel Tallent, 3L at Florida State University College of Law, is the winner of our second New Voices in Animal Law Writing Contest!

Laurel Tallent grew up an avid animal lover, constantly wanting to help any animal that she came in contact with. After learning about the travesty that is factory farming, Laurel immediately went vegan but soon realized that was not enough, she needed to do more to help the voiceless. In 2016, she moved to Tallahassee to pursue a law degree from Florida State University College of Law with the goal of working specifically in Animal Law. So far, she has interned with Save the Manatee and Florida Fish and Wildlife. As president of FSU Law’s SALDF Chapter, she has helped make SALDF one of the most active and sought out groups on campus. After graduation, Laurel hopes to continue to work on furthering animal law and animal rights, both professionally and in her personal life.

Swimming in the Right Direction – Animal Cruelty to Sharks in Florida

I grew up in a small town off the Gulf Coast of Florida. Like life in most Gulf towns, the weekends were spent on the water. “I’d rather be fishin’” is a bumper sticker seem more often than not and boating is not a pastime, it’s more of a way of life. People spend their mornings, afternoons, and entire weekends out on their boats catching everything from small fish to large sharks. I remember spending countless hours on the back of the pontoon boat playing with the dog while my dad spent his day fishing for black tip sharks off the front.

I never understood fishing, though. It always seemed cruel. Fish are often thrown on ice to die, cut open and gutted alive on the boat, or thrown back in with wounds inside their mouths as “catch-and-release.” Yet these cruel acts are never questioned. Kids are taught to fish from a young age and there is often a disconnect between how locals view fish and how they view land animals. Fish are not furry, they’re not cuddly, we can’t hear them, and we barely see them. When I would ask fishermen why they don’t find fishing to be cruel, I’d often hear responses like “Fish don’t feel pain,” “fish are dumb,” and “fish can’t remember what happened to them.” This couldn’t be further from the truth.

People in my hometown cared about cruelty towards manatees, but never the fish who surrounded them. However, this year something happened about an hour away from my hometown that changed this. Three men were charged with animal aggravated cruelty for dragging a shark behind their boat and from there, a new precedent was set.

It all started when Mark “The Shark” Quartiano, a celebrity shark hunter in Miami, shared a video of a shark being drug behind a boat while still alive.[1] The video showed three men pointing and smiling as the shark, who was tied by his tail, was dragged behind the speeding boat.[2] The shark twists and flops in the boat’s wake throughout the video, struggling to get free. The men also posted pictures of the shark’s mangled body that was taken afterwards. Quartiano said that he was shocked and horrified by the video:[3] “I don’t know what they expected me to do. Laugh it off and say “nice work”? Oh no, that’s not me,” Quartiano said. “I’ve killed tens of thousands of sharks but not tortured them, not inhumanely and not disrespected them like that.”[4]

To consider a mere charge against an individual a “win” may seem like a bit of stretch. However, animal cruelty charges to fish are few and far between. First the federal Animal Welfare Act (“AWA”) excludes poikilothermic (cold-blooded) animals.[5] Second, the Florida animal cruelty statute defines animals “…to include every living dumb creature…” and defines the words “torture,” “torment,” and cruelty” as to “…include every act, omission, or neglect where by unnecessary or unjustifiable pain or suffering is caused, except when done in the interest of medical science, permitted or allowed to continue when there is reasonable remedy or relief.”[6]

Although cruelty to sharks would not be included under the AWA, it could fall under state law! This, however, has never been done in Florida until this case. The fact that what happened to this shark drew outrage not just from animal advocacy groups, but also people from fishing and hunting backgrounds like Quartiano, was remarkable. It seemed like every group was coming together and agreeing that this treatment was wrong.

Florida governor, Rick Scott, even spoke out encouraging the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to review fishing regulations to ensure that such inhumane acts are strictly prohibited.[7]

It’s also important to remember that these men were not turned in by an eye-witness. They were not caught by Florida Fish and Wildlife while pulling the shark by his tail. Instead, they were found through people sharing the video and photos posted to social media. They were charged with aggravated animal cruelty, which is a third-degree felony in Florida. This says a lot about the changing views of animal cruelty and the power of social media.

Within five months after the video surfaced, the three men were identified, found, and charged. Florida Fish and Wildlife Chairman, Bo Rivard, stated “As we’ve said since this video and other images came to light, these actions have no place in Florida where we treasure and conserve our natural resources for everyone.”[8]

Fish are interesting and intelligent animals who deserve the same ideals that we give to cute and cuddly animals, such as dogs, cats, horses, and birds among others. As mentioned previously, the AWA automatically excludes fish due to being cold-blooded. Fish don’t deserve to suffer merely because their body heat is regulated by their surroundings. Scientific studies have shown that fish have memories, they have friends, they can create symbiotic relationships, and they are intelligent. They do deserve protection under the law. They deserve society’s compassion.

At the Florida State University College of Law, I am part of our Animal Legal Defense Fund student chapter. In February, I hosted a meeting to discuss animal cruelty regarding fish. During the presentation, I discussed this shark case and the fact that it was going to trial. I expected a lot of push-back from students supporting fishing since it’s so engrained in Florida culture. However, the amount of support that this talk received was amazing. Students were also outraged and asked more about Florida’s animal cruelty statute. Once again, I was reminded that our compassion for fish is growing.

In addition, about a month later, our Animal Legal Defense Fund student chapter hosted attorneys from the Hillsborough County Attorney’s Office to discuss its Animal Abuse Registry. During this meeting, they mentioned the shark case and stated that it was a possibility that the three men charged could be added to the registry if they are found guilty on the felony charges! I found this as an amazing step forward in protecting animals everywhere.

After this video was shared, other videos and posts have risen regarding harassment to aquatic animals. Unfortunately, most of these videos will not amount to charges for various reasons. However, the fact that they could possibly result in charges and are being taken more seriously is phenomenal. This shark case shows that society will need to rethink the way that they treat fish in the future, as everyday people are viewing countless videos and photos on social media, questioning what abuse looks like and defining their own morals in that regard.

The court case is still on-going, but charging anyone with felony animal cruelty regarding wildlife – let alone a wild shark – is something that I would have never imagined seeing close to my home town. This is why I believe that this case is the most inspiring “swim” forward in animal law. So many acts are unregulated outside of size and net laws for fish, especially regarding catch and slaughter. Fishing happens every day here in Florida and as long as I can remember, people would never think a second thought about it. To know that there can be repercussions for those who mistreat fish is inspiring. Furthermore, the fact that the video moved so many people around the country, especially an avid notorious shark hunter, to speak out regarding the cruel treatment of this shark gives me hope for a better future for all animals.

[1] Peter Martinez, CBS News, Officials Charge 3 Men Linked to Shark Dragging Video Incident,, December 13, 2017.

[2] Sara Nealeigh, Miami Herald, Shark ‘Beer Bong’ Video Prompts Florida Officials to Expand Investigation,, July 28, 2017.

[3] Jenny Staletovich, Miami Herald, Angler in Shark-Dragging Video Has History of Posting Troubling Wildlife Photos, July 26, 2017.

[4] Id.

[5] 7 U.S.C. § 2131 (1966)

[6] F.S. 828.02

[7] Craig Pittman, Tampa Bay Times, Shark Dragging Video Case Results in Three Arrests, Dec. 12, 2017.

[8] Carli Teproff, Miami Harold, Notorious Shark-Dragging Videos Results in Three Florida Men Facing Animal Cruelty Charges, Dec 12, 2017.

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Queens County Animal Hoarder Convicted of 108 Counts of Animal Cruelty

Posted by on June 7, 2018

Animal Legal Defense Fund Senior Staff Attorney Diane Balkin and Assistant District Attorney Nicoletta J. Caferri, Chief of the Queens County Animal Cruelty Prosecutions Unit

Animal Legal Defense Fund Senior Staff Attorney Diane Balkin and Assistant District Attorney Nicoletta J. Caferri, Chief of the Queens County Animal Cruelty Prosecutions Unit


A smell of ammonia so intense that rescuers had to wear respirators and protective clothing. Animals with crusted eyes and fur. Floors coated in feces and urine.

This was the scene New York City police officers discovered in a Queens home two years ago. The total number of animals found living in the modest, single-family attached house? 55 cats, 12 dogs, and 2 turtles. The house was swarming with flies, and fly excrement was speckled across all hard surfaces including the walls and lamps. Additionally, the furniture, including beds, was covered in feces and urine.

Officers came upon the chaotic scene in January 2016 while visiting the home for unrelated reasons. Ultimately 12 of the animals were so ill that they had to be euthanized, including Dorothy, a dog who suffered from kidney and liver disease. A forensic veterinarian who examined the animals determined their health was compromised due to the extremely filthy conditions; some of the animals’ health was severely compromised. A number of animals had severe dental disease, and many cats suffered from contagious and chronic ear mites.

Assistant District Attorney Nicoletta J. Caferri, Chief of the Queens County Animal Cruelty Prosecutions Unit, was assigned to prosecute the person responsible for mistreating Dorothy and the other 68 animals who had been neglected. Caferri reached out to Lora Dunn, the director of the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s Criminal Justice Program, for assistance and our team of criminal experts sprung into action.

Senior Staff Attorney Diane Balkin, with 32 years of experience as a prosecutor in the Denver District Attorney’s Office, led the Animal Legal Defense Fund team. Balkin has a wide breadth of knowledge and experience prosecuting all types of felonies including animal cruelty. Today she is one of our attorneys using her experience to provide expert support to prosecutors dealing with animal cruelty cases across the country.

On a national level, animal cruelty crimes like this are unfortunately under-investigated and under-prosecuted due to limited resources. Even the toughest anti-cruelty laws are useless if law enforcement agencies and prosecutors’ offices are unable to prosecute crimes against animals. That’s why the Animal Legal Defense Fund offers free legal assistance to prosecutors and law enforcement agencies to ensure that crimes against animals are investigated and abusers are held accountable.

In the Queens hoarding case, Diane worked closely with ADA Caferri. Thanks to their diligent efforts, in March 2018, the woman was found guilty of 108 counts of animal cruelty, failure to provide proper sustenance, and failure to provide proper food and drink to an impounded animal. At sentencing, she will face a maximum penalty of up to two years in jail in addition to being prohibited from possessing animals in the future.

Without your generous support we would not be able to ensure justice was served and the person responsible for Dorothy’s suffering may not have faced punishment. The Animal Legal Defense Fund consults and assists on roughly 100 animal cruelty cases a year. Thank you for helping us defend animals in every state. To learn more, go to

“The Animal Legal Defense Fund gave me the invaluable guidance I was hoping for to be able to take this important case to trial. Diane Balkin’s practical trial skills and experience as a prosecutor are extremely deep and rich.”  – Assistant District Attorney Nicoletta J. Caferri

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An Evening with the Animal Legal Defense Fund – New York City

Posted by on June 1, 2018

On Thursday, May 31, the Animal Legal Defense Fund hosted “An Evening with the Animal Legal Defense Fund” in New York City. Guests learned about our recent victories and plans for the upcoming year. Animal advocates mingled with key staff members including Executive Director Stephen Wells and Joyce Tischler, founder and general counsel of the Animal Legal Defense Fund. The event also included Animal Legal Defense Fund board members Sarah Luick (board chair), Andrea Arden, Morgan Mulford, and Elizabeth Hess.

Attendees viewed a short video about the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s mission to protect the lives and advance the interests of animals through the legal system. Additionally, Executive Director Stephen Wells presented an award to Nicoletta J. Caferri, Chief of the Animal Cruelty Prosecutions Unit in the Queens County District Attorney’s Office in New York City, for her outstanding work on behalf of animals.

The sold-out event, held at the 287 Gallery in the heart of Chelsea, featured a few famous canines who stole the show and kept guests focused on the reason we hold these events in the first place – for the animals.

Enjoy a few photos of the event below.

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Bella’s Bill – A Major Step Forward for New York’s Animals

Posted by on May 31, 2018

Bella, an eleven-year-old Shepherd mix, was killed on December 23, 2016 by her caregiver. The defendant tightened a zip tie around her neck, stuffed her in a garbage bag, and beat her with a metal shovel. Due to the extent of her injuries, Bella was euthanized. Despite the seriousness of the crime, Bella’s abuser received only four months in county jail – a sentence that falls far short of justice for Bella.

Sign the open letter to Governor Cuomo in support of Bella’s Bill.

New Yorkers were rightfully outraged – the punishment should fit the crime. That’s why we’re excited to share that New York State Senator Andrew Lanza introduced Senate Bill 8724, informally known as “Bella’s Bill,” to overhaul New York’s outdated animal cruelty laws.  It’s about time – this year, New York ranked in the worst ten states in our annual U.S. Animal Protection Laws Rankings Report.

Senator Lanza’s important bill would, among other changes, transfer animal cruelty laws out of the Agriculture & Markets Law and into the Penal Code. This sounds like a small detail, but it’s not. This move will ensure crimes against animals are treated as “real” crimes by law enforcement officials. The bill also enhances penalties for people convicted of intentional animal abuse.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund is working closely with Senator Lanza’s office to ensure the bill’s passage. But we need your help to make Bella’s Bill law.

Sign your name to the open letter to Governor Andrew Cuomo urging him to support Bella’s Bill and make strengthening New York’s outdated animal cruelty laws a priority.

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California Residents: Support the Animal Welfare and Violence Intervention Act of 2018

Posted by on May 30, 2018

Thanks to your advocacy, SB 1024, the Animal Welfare and Violence Intervention Act of 2018 has already passed two committees in the California legislature. Now the bill is headed to a full Senate vote this week, and your Senator needs to hear from you!  Please call your Senator today and urge him or her to vote “YES” on SB 1024.

SB 1024, the Animal Welfare and Violence Intervention Act of 2018, addresses the link between violence against animals and violence against humans. The bill would empower judges to order people convicted of animal cruelty in California to complete an education course, undergo mental health evaluations, or participate in counseling. These options are in addition to any jail time and/or probation currently allowed under California law.

Please take a few minutes today or tomorrow to call your Senator and politely ask them to support SB 1024, the Animal Welfare and Violence Intervention Act of 2018.

Here’s a sample script:

“Hi, I live in _____ (name of Senator’s) district. I’m calling today to urge the Senator to vote ‘YES’ on SB 1024, the Animal Welfare and Violence Intervention Act of 2018. This important bill addresses the link between violence against animals and violence against humans.”

To find which Senator represents your district, click here.

And to find your Senator’s phone number, click here.

UPDATE: This action is now closed. SB 1024, the Animal Welfare and Violence Intervention Act of 2018 passed the California Senate unanimously! We will keep you updated on next steps.

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Support the Animal Welfare and Violence Intervention Act of 2018

Posted by on May 16, 2018

We need your help to ensure that SB 1024, the Animal Welfare and Violence Intervention Act of 2018, becomes law! The bill passed the Senate Public Safety Committee but without your support, it won’t get through the next steps of the legislative process.

sad puppy

Animal abusers are five times more likely to harm humans. The Animal Legal Defense Fund is working with California State Senator Scott Wilk to address the link between animal cruelty and violence against humans by enacting SB 1024, the Animal Welfare and Violence Intervention Act of 2018.

Animal abuse is among the most misunderstood and undercharged crimes in our society. Currently, there are limited sentencing options, and judges have little power to ensure animal abusers receive appropriate treatment or education. In California, fines, limited jail time, probation, and forced animal surrender are about the only options. None of these options adequately address the underlying causes of animal cruelty.

The bill would require all convicted animal abusers to complete an approved animal offender education course and require offenders convicted under more serious animal abuse statues – like those involving malicious violence – to undergo a mandatory mental health evaluation and possibly ongoing counseling for up to one year.

Please take a few minutes today to call the legislators in the Senate Appropriations Committee (telephone numbers below) and politely ask them to support this important measure.

“Hi, I live in _____ (name of Senator’s) district (if you don’t live in their district, simply say ‘I am a California resident’). I am calling to ask him/her to support SB 1024, the Animal Welfare and Violence Intervention Act of 2018. Abusers of animals are five times more likely to harm humans. Legislation addressing the link between animal abuse and violence against humans is essential to protecting Californians.”

Thank you for protecting California’s animals!

Senate Appropriations Committee Contact Information:

Senator Ricardo Lara (Chair) (Long Beach) – (916) 651-4033

Senator Patricia Bates (Vice Chair) (Laguna Niguel) – (916) 651-4036

Steven Bradford (Los Angeles) – (916) 651-4035

Jerry Hill (South San Francisco) – (916) 651-4013

Jim Nielson (Sacramento Valley) – (916) 651-4004

Scott Weiner (San Francisco) – (916) 651-4011

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6 Ways for New Graduates to Stay Involved in Animal Law

Posted by on May 4, 2018

Cat on a computer

Congratulations to law students graduating this semester! As you begin your career, you may be wondering how you can remain involved in the field of animal law. Here are six easy ways:

  1. Join Animal Legal Defense Fund’s Pro Bono Program and sign up as a volunteer attorney. Animal Legal Defense Fund offers new graduates a free one year attorney membership. Sign up now to receive a free gift! The support of attorneys nationwide is integral to helping us protect the lives and advance the interests of animals through the legal system. We use volunteer attorneys to work on a variety of projects including research, writing, citation checking, filing amicus briefs, litigating cases, and assisting with public inquiries involving animals.
  2. Sign up for Animal Legal Defense Fund’s Law Professional eNewsletter. The Newsletter includes the latest animal law updates, events, webinars, and continuing education and employment opportunities. (To join, select “Law Professional Newsletter” on the sign up page.)
  3. If you are job hunting, make sure to check out our career advice for aspiring animal attorneys and our Employment and Fellowship pages, where we post open positions at the Animal Legal Defense Fund and job opportunities at various law firms and nonprofit organizations across the country.
  4. Get involved in your regional or state bar association’s animal law section or committee. If they don’t have one, start one! Contact us for information on how to start a section.
  5. Stay up to date on all the latest animal protection news and obtain your Continuing Legal Education credits with Animal Legal Defense Fund’s Animal Law Academy. This includes both substantive and practical topics in animal law presented by experts in the field. The online series is an interactive, convenient, and free way to learn more about the rapidly developing field of animal law. You can also attend the annual Animal Law Conference, which is co-presented by Animal Legal Defense Fund, the Center for Animal Law Studies at Lewis & Clark Law School, and the Lewis & Clark Student Animal Legal Defense Fund chapter.
  6. Stay in touch with your school’s Student Animal Legal Defense Fund chapter and serve as a mentor for students interested in animal law.

Good luck on the bar exam and in this next stage of your career!

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End the Cycle of Abuse – Speak out in Support of the Animal Welfare and Violence Intervention Act

Posted by on April 17, 2018

Animal abusers are five times more likely to harm humans. The Animal Legal Defense Fund is working with California State Senator Scott Wilk to address the link between animal cruelty and violence against humans by passing SB 1024, the Animal Welfare and Violence Intervention Act of 2018.

Take Action: Speak Out for California's Animals

Animal abuse is among the most misunderstood and undercharged crimes in our society. Currently, there are limited sentencing options, and judges have little power to ensure animal abusers receive appropriate treatment or education. In California, fines, limited jail time, probation, and forced animal surrender are about the only options. None of these options adequately address the underlying causes of animal cruelty.

We need Californians’ help to ensure this bill becomes law. The bill would require all convicted animal abusers to complete an approved animal offender education course and require offenders convicted under more serious animal abuse statues – like those involving malicious violence – to undergo a mandatory mental health evaluation and possibly ongoing counseling for up to one year.

Please take a few minutes to call the legislators in the Senate Public Safety Committee today and politely ask them to support SB 1024. Find their phone numbers at the bottom of the page. If you’d like, you can use the sample script below:

“Hi, I live in _____ (name of Senator’s) district (if you don’t live in their district, simply say ‘I am a California resident’). I am calling to ask him/her to support SB 1024, the Animal Welfare and Violence Intervention Act of 2018. Abusers of animals are five times more likely to harm humans. Legislation addressing the link between animal abuse and violence against humans is essential to protecting Californians.”

Thank you for protecting California’s animals!

Contact Information:

  • Senator Nancy Skinner (East Bay) – (916) 651-4009
  • Senator Scott Wiener (San Francisco) – (916) 651-4011
  • Senator Steven Bradford (Los Angeles) – (916) 651-4035
  • Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson (Santa Barbara/Ventura) – (916) 651-4019
  • Senator Holly Mitchell (Culver City) – (916) 651-4030
  • Senator Jeff Stone (Riverside) – (916) 651-4028
  • Senator Joel Anderson (San Diego) – (916) 651-4038
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San Francisco Becomes First Major U.S. City to Ban Fur

Posted by Nicole Pallotta, Academic Outreach Manager on April 17, 2018

“I hope that it inspires other cities and the country to take action. Certainly we need better federal regulations on fur farming. There’s no humane way to raise an animal to peel its skin off.”

– San Francisco Supervisor Katy Tang, in the Los Angeles Times 

San Francisco has become the third and largest city in the nation to prohibit the sale and manufacture of products containing animal fur. The groundbreaking ordinance was unanimously approved by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors on March 20, 2018.

San Francisco Supervisor Katy Tang, who was inspired to spearhead the ban after two other California cities passed similar legislation, said in a press release:

Fur factory farms are violent places for animals where they are gassed, electrocuted, poisoned and injured for the sole purpose of creating clothing and accessories. It is unconscionable that San Francisco would continue to allow these types of products to be sold, and we must set the example for other cities across the country and the globe to join us in banning fur apparel.

West Hollywood, known for its animal-friendly legislation, was the first city to pass a fur ban in 2011, which went into effect in 2013. The Animal Legal Defense Fund provided model language for that law. Berkeley passed a similar law last year, with councilmembers citing concerns about the welfare of animals and fostering a humane environment. Likewise, San Francisco’s ordinance unequivocally states that concern for the animals who suffer and die in the fur trade while cruelty-free alternatives are readily available was the reason for the ban:

The sale of fur products in San Francisco is inconsistent with the City’s ethos of treating all living beings, humans and animals alike, with kindness. In light of the wide array of faux fur and other alternatives for fashion and apparel, the demand for fur products does not justify the unnecessary killing and cruel treatment of animals. Eliminating the sale of fur products in San Francisco will promote community awareness of animal welfare, bolster the City’s stance against animal cruelty, and, in turn, foster a more humane environment in San Francisco.

In addition to being the first major U.S. city to ban fur, San Francisco is also regarded as a fashion hub and has far more stores that sell fur apparel than Berkeley or West Hollywood, making the legislation even more groundbreaking.

In arguing for the ban, San Francisco supervisors spoke out strongly on behalf of the millions of individual animals who are killed for their pelts each year. As reported by the San Francisco Chronicle:

“It is estimated that around the world some 50 million animals are slaughtered in gruesome ways so that we can wear their fur and look fashionable,” said Supervisor Katy Tang, the ban’s author. “My hope is that it will send a strong message to the rest of the world.” Tang usually votes on the pro-business side of issues, but not this time. “I am a huge animal rights advocate, and while in office I would like to use my legislative abilities to help those who can’t speak for themselves,” Tang said. “It’s unethical and immoral to raise animals for their skins,” said fellow Supervisor Jeff Sheehy.

The new law goes into effect Jan. 1, 2019, with current retailers having until 2020 to sell their existing inventory. The ban exempts taxidermy and used fur products sold by secondhand stores, nonprofit organizations, and other outlets not normally in the business of selling fur.

West Hollywood’s fur apparel ban – the nation’s first – survived a federal challenge mounted in 2013 by Los Angeles-based retailer Mayfair House, which alleged the law was unconstitutional and that the city overstepped its authority in banning fur apparel sales and that such trade should be regulated by the state. The Animal Legal Defense Fund filed an amicus brief in this case, asking the court to uphold the city’s constitutional authority to protect animals within city limits, and supporting the city’s motion to dismiss the lawsuit. In July 2014, a federal court agreed and dismissed the fur retailer’s action.

In 2015, after another challenge by the same retailer, West Hollywood’s fur ban was redrafted to allow the sale of fur obtained by lawful trapping. The trapping exemption was added so that the municipal fur ban would not clash with California’s Fish and Game code, which allows for the display and sale of fur lawfully taken by people with a state trapping license. San Francisco’s ordinance includes a similar exemption for trapping.

San Francisco provides an interesting case study in historical change. The first major city to outlaw the sale of animal fur was also once the center of the fur trade in the western United States. According to the Washington Post:

The coastal city named for Saint Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals, was vital to the fur trade beginning in the late 1700s…In the centuries since then, furs have lived several lives, going from kitschy to fashionable to, in some eyes, evil…Now, they’ve begun falling out of fashion, quite literally. Many of the world’s most elite fashion house – places where fur was basically a requirement when designing new garments – have disavowed the animal-based material.

In sync with the many major fashion houses that have decided to part with animal fur, San Francisco’s ordinance cites changing times and evolving technologies that have rendered the need for animal fur obsolete, as well as the lack of legal oversight of the fur industry, as reasons why the legislation was necessary:

Historically, animals were hunted or trapped for food, and their pelts were used to provide protective clothing. Over time, civilizations and technology have developed such that fur is less of a necessity and more of a luxury…Further, more animals are now killed to make decorative fur trim than to manufacture full fur garments…Existing laws require relatively little oversight of the fur farming and fur trade industries. Compliance with guidelines issued by the American Veterinary Medical Association is not mandatory, and fur farms are not monitored by any government agency.

Animal advocates have been working to extinguish the cruel fur industry for decades. Fur farming has been banned or is being phased out in many European countries including Germany, Austria, Croatia, the United Kingdom, the Czech Republic, and Norway. Others, like Switzerland, have passed such strict welfare regulations that fur farming had been effectively eliminated without an outright ban. However some countries, like China – the world’s second biggest producer of farmed fur– have very few regulations.

While it remains to be seen if San Francisco’s ban will “set off a wave of similar bans across the nation,” it does demonstrate how as a society we are increasingly reevaluating and refining our values and laws regarding what is acceptable treatment of animals. Following the city council vote, Supervisor Tang succinctly embodied this changing ethos in a tweet:

“Speaking on behalf of those with no voice, my colleagues just voted 10-0 to support my ban on the sale of new fur apparel & accessories beginning 1/1/19. No more profiting off the literal backs of animals.”


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Protecting Puerto Rico’s Captive Animals

Posted by on April 9, 2018

tiger in cage

Puerto Rico’s only official zoo, Dr. Juan A. Rivero National Zoological Park, gained international attention last year for its abysmal conditions. More than 100 animals live at the zoo, including endangered animals such as Mundi, a female African elephant, lions, ring-tailed lemurs, tigers, and North American black bears. Outraged by the treatment of the animals, people around the world, including the governor of Puerto Rico, have called for the zoo’s closure. The Animal Legal Defense Fund stepped in – filing a public records request and urging the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) not to renew the zoo’s license due to its many Animal Welfare Act (AWA) violations.

A Zoo in Crisis

USDA inspection reports reveal a zoo on the verge of catastrophe. Animals are dying due to untrained staff, poor sanitation, and enclosures that fail to meet even the most basic needs of the animals. The zoo is severely understaffed, and the few employees are not properly trained to care for the zoo’s diverse animal population. In 2017, newborn tiger cubs were moved by zoo employees without notifying the attending veterinarian. The cubs later died, possibly due to rejection of the cubs by their mother.

Medical problems plague many of the animals. A tiger suffering from multiple ailments died last year after the zoo failed to provide adequate veterinary care for over two years. Many of the animals’ enclosures are deficient, particularly in the extreme temperatures of Puerto Rico. For example, only one of the bear enclosures has access to a pool of water, leaving the other bear unable to cool himself off. In the summer, temperatures regularly soar into the 90’s and above, and the animals need to be able to escape the heat.

Puerto Rico’s economic troubles and the September 2017 hurricane exacerbated the zoo’s problems. Lawmakers held hearings about the state of the zoo last year, and experts testified the zoo needed increased staffing and improvements to infrastructure. But budget cuts across the board have resulted in reduced government services to Puerto Rico’s human residents, making funding the zoo an even lower priority.

As the USDA Records Blackout Continues, Animals Suffer

In February 2017, the USDA removed two online databases containing thousands of records about facilities regulated by the AWA previously available on the USDA website. Animal advocates and organizations relied on the online databases to monitor conditions at thousands of roadside zoos, puppy mills, and research labs across the country. The records served as the basis to build legal cases against the worst violators, challenge the USDA for its failure to enforce the AWA, and advocate for stronger animal protection policies.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund filed a lawsuit against the USDA over the blackout, but as the case winds through the court system, animals like those at the Mayaguez zoo suffer. Case in point – with records no longer available online, in July 2017, the Animal Legal Defense Fund filed an expedited Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for records related to the zoo. The USDA denied the request to expedite, ignored several requests for status updates, and finally, seven months later, responded with a single document –which happened to already be publicly available. The Animal Legal Defense Fund appealed the response.

Endangered Animals have Special Protections

The zoo’s many endangered animals are of special concern. The Animal Legal Defense Fund’s landmark legal victories against Cricket Hollow Zoo in Iowa created an important precedent under the Endangered Species Act. As a result, zoos and any other person who chooses to keep an endangered animal must be prepared to provide for these animals’ unique biological and psychological needs. It’s clear that the Mayaguez zoo is not equipped to provide the level of care mandated by the Endangered Species Act.

In February 2018, the zoo’s license was listed as “canceled” on the USDA website. Due to the information blackout, it’s unknown what factors contributed to the USDA’s decision or the status of the many animals in the zoo’s possession. The Animal Legal Defense Fund submitted a new FOIA request regarding the cancellation in March.

Multiple sanctuaries have offered to rehome some of the zoo’s animals, but political gridlock leaves their fate uncertain. These sanctuaries’ offers would help alleviate some of the financial pressure currently on Puerto Rico and allow the country to focus on rebuilding its infrastructure after the devastating hurricane in 2017. The Animal Legal Defense Fund is deeply concerned about the wellbeing of these animals and will continue to push for answers.

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Stopping Cruel High-Speed Pig Slaughter

Posted by on April 5, 2018

pigs at a factory farm

This week the Animal Legal Defense Fund submitted comments to the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) opposing the agency’s plan to speed up pig slaughtering — an already alarmingly fast process, at an average of 16 pigs per minute —and turn over critical food safety inspection duties from agency inspectors to self-interested and industry trained slaughter plant workers. USDA’s proposed “Modernization of Swine Slaughter Inspection” rule would expand a failed and unlawful pilot program, the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point-based Inspection Models Project (HIMP), to pig slaughterhouses nationwide, creating the New Swine Slaughter Inspection System. While the largest meat companies stand to profit from this privatized, speeded-up pig slaughter, animals, consumers, and slaughterhouse workers will pay a steep price.

Abusive, painful slaughter of pigs

Despite a broad outcry — from the agency’s own Office of Inspector General and its front-line inspectors in HIMP slaughter plants, to a bipartisan coalition of lawmakers, and the general public — USDA appears poised to remake pig slaughter in the image of Hormel Foods. As the example of HIMP plant Quality Pork Processors, Inc. (QPP) makes clear, this would mean abuse, terror, and painful slaughter for many thousands of pigs across the country. QPP supplies meat exclusively for Hormel Foods, and slaughters a whopping 1,295 pigs per hour, or one pig every three seconds. A 2015 undercover investigation of QPP revealed plant employees, under pressure to keep up with the facility’s high slaughtering speeds, illegally dragging, kicking, beating, and excessively shocking pigs with electric prods. Disabled “downer” hogs who were too sick or injured to move were abused as slaughterhouse workers tried to force them to the kill floor. The QPP investigation also documented numerous instances of improper stunning of pigs — another serious violation of federal law. A QPP supervisor who was supposed to be overseeing the required stunning of pigs was filmed literally sleeping on the job. Does this facility sound like a model for the nation?

Playing Russian roulette with food safety

As if this weren’t bad enough, implementing the New Swine Slaughter Inspection System nationwide also carries dire consequences for food safety. In the words of one HIMP plant inspector, “[f]ood safety has gone down the drain under HIMP.” Poorly-trained plant employees have been enlisted as on-line sorters, replacing FSIS inspectors with expertise in pathology and decades of experience in inspection — while slaughter speed increases dramatically. Reprimanded and threatened with termination for performing inspection duties too rigorously, company sorters have every incentive to ignore violations. As large pig carcasses speed by, employees miss or ignore dangerous and unsanitary contaminants, defects, and diseases — fecal matter, bile, grease, hair, toenails, cystic kidneys, bladder stems, abscesses, lesions, diamond skin, and more — allowing sullied pigs to proceed down the slaughter line to be processed into food. FSIS inspectors similarly face pressure not to stop the slaughter line to remove carcasses with contaminants, experiencing threats and retaliation both from the company and their own agency superiors.

This toxic formula has wrought dismal results. As the USDA’s own watchdog sub-agency reported, of the top 10 pig slaughter plants nationally racking up the most food safety citations in a three-year period, three were HIMP plants, and by far the most-cited plant in the country during that period — with nearly 50% more citations than the slaughterhouse with the next highest number — was a HIMP plant. FSIS’s own HIMP plant inspectors were so alarmed by the pilot program — and by their leadership’s repeated failure to heed warnings — that they became whistleblowers. Citing abysmal results for food safety, slaughter plant workers, and the welfare of animals, a bipartisan coalition of members of Congress further warned FSIS not to proceed with HIMP, while over a quarter million people signed a petition opposing the plan. FSIS should heed this chorus of well-placed criticism, and discard the new pig slaughter program as a failed and unlawful experiment.

Hormel under fire

While the QPP investigation revealed Hormel’s pig slaughter failings, the Animal Legal Defense Fund also gained a shocking first-hand view into Hormel’s mistreatment of pigs in its care when we obtained undercover footage from a pig breeding facility operated by The Maschhoffs, LLC, which sources pigs to Hormel. The investigator documented pigs suffering for weeks with prolapsed rectums, gaping open wounds, and bloody cysts among other illnesses. Pigs deprived of food for long periods of time became agitated and injured themselves. We called on Hormel to clean up its supply chain and protect pigs from these heinous abuses.

And in 2016, the Animal Legal Defense Fund filed a lawsuit against Hormel Foods, alleging the company is misleading consumers by advertising its Natural Choice®-brand deli meat and bacon products as “natural,” “clean,” “honest,” and “wholesome,” when in reality they are sourced from industrial, pharmaceutical-using factory farms and inhumane, unsanitary slaughter facilities like QPP. Through its “Make the Natural Choice” advertising campaign, Hormel paints a picture of sustainably-sourced, ethically-raised products that we allege bears little resemblance to its true practices, and dupes consumers into believing they are buying something they’re not. Learn more about the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s lawsuit against Hormel.

Take action

The USDA is accepting public comments on the proposed pig slaughter plan until May 2, 2018. Make your voice heard and tell them to ditch this dangerous and inhumane proposal.

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Cities Are Fighting Back Against Puppy Mills – But Some States Won’t Let Them

Posted by on April 2, 2018

A puppy in a cage

Across the country, cities and counties are taking a stand against the cruel puppy mill industry by adopting retail pet sale bans. Puppy mills are breeding facilities in which the maximization of profit is prioritized over the well-being of the dogs. These laws make it illegal for pet stores to sell dogs and cats (and sometimes additional animals) sourced from large-scale commercial breeders, and instead require them to offer animals available for adoption from rescues and animals shelters. In 2017, California made history when it enacted AB 485, the first state law to prohibit pet stores from selling commercially-bred animals. While California is the first state to enact a retail pet sale ban, hundreds of cities and counties, including Cook County (Chicago) and New York City, have adopted similar ordinances.

In response, pet store lobbyists are pressuring state legislatures to pass preemption laws blocking cities’ and counties’ right to adopt retail pet sale bans. Passing preemption laws at the state level is a common tactic employed by lobbyists to impede local laws.  When a local law conflicts with a state law, the state law preempts (or takes precedence over) the local law. Pet store lobbyists claim these laws are necessary to ensure there are uniform laws across a state. In reality, puppy mill preemption laws simply rob cities and counties of the ability to pass laws their residents want.

States with Preemption Laws – Arizona and Ohio

Despite vigorous opposition from animal advocates, both Arizona and Ohio passed laws undercutting the power of cities and counties to prohibit the retail sale of puppies. Ohio Governor John Kasich signed Senate Bill 331, dubbed the “Petland Bill,” into law on December 19, 2016. As the name suggests, Petland was the driving force behind SB 331. At the time of its passage, several Ohio communities, Toledo and Grove City, had adopted laws that required pet stores to offer only puppies from animal shelters or rescue organizations. Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper lamented the decision, stating, “This bill was a last-minute sneak attack on Ohio voters, citizens, and communities that are taking action to improve their economic fortunes, protect their quality of life, and crack down on horrific abuses against animals.”

And in Arizona, Governor Doug Ducey signed a similar preemption bill in May 2016. Defending his decision, Governor Ducey wrote that the law “ensures puppies being sold in pet shops are coming from responsible breeders” in a public letter. Despite Governor Ducey’s claims, the Arizona law did little to protect consumers or puppies from unscrupulous pet stores. Less than a year later, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) information blackout further weakened the already weak law.

Preemption Laws and the USDA Information Blackout

Both the Arizona and Ohio preemption laws suggest that breeders licensed by the USDA are somehow distinct from puppy mills. But the reality is that many puppy mills are USDA licensed. At the federal level, breeders are regulated by the Animal Welfare Act (AWA), a law that outlines basic care requirements for the millions of animals living in roadside zoos, puppy mills, and research labs across the country. But the standards for a breeder to be a “USDA-licensed” facility are minimal and many breeders with USDA licenses still have hundreds of dogs on a relatively small property, living in wire cages with little human interaction.  Moreover, the USDA has an abysmal track record when it comes to ensuring facilities meet even the most basic AWA requirements.

And even when AWA violations are found, they rarely result in license revocation. Instead, the USDA issues warnings or negligible fines, or takes no action at all. That could change in the future. Thanks to a lawsuit filed by the Animal Legal Defense Fund, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia recently ruled that the USDA can no longer rubberstamp license renewals for facilities it knows are violating the AWA. But presently, thousands of puppy mills remain licensed.

Worsening the situation, in February 2017, the USDA removed public access to thousands of animal welfare records related to the AWA. The removal of these databases added an additional wrinkle to preemption laws. The Ohio law is predicated on the ability of consumers and local authorities to confirm whether pet stores are sourcing their puppies from breeders without USDA violations. Specifically, the law forces cities to allow pet stores to sell puppies from “qualified breeders.” The statutory definition of “qualified breeder” excludes, in part, breeders with certain kinds of violations from the USDA within the last three years.

But when the USDA removed the databases, animal advocates, local governments, and consumers lost this ability. Today the Ohio law is virtually unenforceable, enabling pet stores to sell puppies from breeders regardless of their track record without fear of repercussion. The Arizona law was similarly undermined by the removal of the databases. In a concession to animal advocates, the Arizona preemption bill included a disclosure requirement – stores must label each animal’s cage with information about the breeder, including the USDA license number. Upon the removal of the online databases, these requirements became largely useless.

Preemption Bills Defeated in the 2018 Florida and Georgia Legislative Sessions

This year, efforts to pass preemption bills in the Florida and Georgia legislatures failed. Similar efforts in Tennessee and Illinois also failed in 2017.  Near the end of the 2018 Florida legislative session, pet store lobbyists snuck language into a tax bill, HB 7087, that would have voided retail pet sale bans in 58 Florida cities and counties and prohibited future ordinances.

The Animal Legal Defense Fund worked with professionals in Tallahassee and rallied Florida residents to defeat the bill. It was ultimately amended to remove the preemption language prior to becoming final. Then just days before the session ended, Representative Halsey Beshears, R-Monticello, introduced a similar amendment to an agricultural bill. Facing opposition once again from the Animal Legal Defense Fund and the Florida Association of Counties, Representative Beshears withdrew the amendment later that same day.

Legislators in Georgia went a step further and introduced bills, SB 418 and HB 948, that would have prohibited cities and countries from regulating the sale of any goods also regulated by the Georgia Department of Agriculture, the USDA, and the Food and Drug of Administration. The bill provoked significant outcry from advocates and while the Senate bill received a floor vote, both bills ultimately died.

Retail pet sale bans are a powerful way for people to fight puppy mills in their own communities. Preemption laws wrongly infringe on local governments’ ability to protect their residents and animals. Instead of passing preemption laws, states should ban the sale of commercially-bred animals statewide. In 2018 alone, at least six state legislatures (Maryland, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New York, Oregon, and Pennsylvania) are considering such legislation. It is almost assured more states will follow suit in the future.


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Animal Cruelty Prevention Bill Introduced in California

Posted by on March 30, 2018

On March 26, 2018, California State Senator Scott Wilk, R-Antelope Valley, introduced SB1024, the Animal Welfare and Violence Intervention Act of 2018, to address the link between animal abuse and violence towards humans and to stop the escalation of dangerous behavior among offenders who hurt animals. The Animal Legal Defense Fund worked closely with Sen. Wilk on the bill concept and drafting to sponsor it with him in the legislature. It has broad support among legislative, animal protection, and law enforcement leaders and will receive a hearing in the Senate Committee for Public Safety in the coming weeks. The Animal Legal Defense Fund will be spearheading the bill’s progress through the legislature.

Bill Introduces Mental Health Counseling and Animal Education to Sentencing

The bill requires all convicted animal cruelty offenders to complete an approved animal offender education course that will teach them proper techniques for interacting with animals in a positive way. The bill also amends California law to require offenders convicted under more serious animal abuse statues — like those involving malicious violence — to undergo a mandatory mental health evaluation and, if deemed beneficial by the assessing mental health professional, to seek ongoing counseling for up to one year.

As law enforcement, mental health, and animal protection communities have known for a long time, current animal cruelty penalties are neither restorative nor rehabilitative and do not sufficiently address the root causes of these crimes nor do they adequately reduce recidivism among animal abuse offenders or escalation of violent behavior among those offenders. This bill seeks to address this problem at its root and prevent further animals or people from becoming victims of the perpetrators in the future.

Link Between Violence Towards Animals and Violence Towards People Evident

Animal abuse is among the most misunderstood and undercharged crimes by our criminal justice laws and our society more broadly. Currently, sentencing options are limited and judges are afforded little discretion in appropriate treatment or education of offenders. In California, fines, limited jail time, probation, and forced animal surrender are about the only options. None of these are particularly well suited to addressing the well-documented, underlying causes behind animal cruelty that strongly correlate to subsequent, escalated forms of violence.

The link between animal abuse and violence towards humans is well documented. Offenders who display violence towards animals often subsequently commit violent acts towards humans whether it be domestic violence, child abuse, or, as we saw tragically in Parkland, Florida in 2018, mass shootings. In some cases, 60% of domestic violence offenders also abused animals at some point and 70% of the most violent prisoners in a study of federal prisons, had serious animal abuse in their histories.

Bill Trajectory

As the old saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. While we may not be able to prevent the crimes that bring these offenders to the table, once they’re there, we can certainly endeavor to put the guard rails in place to address their behavior and try to prevent it from happening again. Stay tuned for continued updates about this important legislation as it gains traction and even more support in the California legislature. We commend Senator Wilk for sponsoring this important legislation which could serve as a model nationwide.

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The Individual Within the Whole: Considering the Wellbeing of Individual Animals in Environmental Reviews

Posted by on March 28, 2018

The recent death of Sudan, the last male northern white rhino, made headlines around the world. While his death was not unexpected – at 45-years-old, he was elderly – it was a tragedy for multiple reasons. The future of the northern white rhino is dim. But his death, and the fanfare around it, underscores how deeply many of us value individual animals in addition to species as a whole. We are saddened by the inevitable extinction of the northern white rhino, but we also grieve for Sudan. Sudan had a name – he was not just a number.

Considering a policy or law’s impact on the overall population of an animal species is required by multiple federal and state environmental laws. Will the construction of a border wall result in the extinction of the Mexican gray wolf? Will permitting the use of certain pesticides adversely affect wild orca population numbers?

These questions view the species as a set, often ignoring the impact on individual members. The Animal Legal Defense Fund cares not only about robust population numbers, but also about the individual orcas and Mexican gray wolf families that are adversely impacted by our country’s policies. But do environmental reviews have to consider the well-being of individual animals rather than considering only how an action impacts a species’ overall population numbers? The Animal Legal Defense Fund argues that they do.

Challenging the California Fish and Game Commission

In 2016, the Animal Legal Defense Fund filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Public Interest Coalition, a grassroots organization in California, after the California Fish and Game Commission voted unanimously to amend state regulations to allow hunters to use GPS dog collars while hunting mammals and “treeing switches” (radio telemetry that alerts a hunter when an animal might be treed). A hunted animal is “treed” when hunting dogs chase them up a tree, and wait at the bottom barking, holding the animal hostage with fear. Treeing is used for animals including cougars and black bears. The Animal Legal Defense Fund argued the Commission violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) by failing to consider the detrimental impact the decision will have on wildlife.

Back in Court

In response to the lawsuit, the Commission revisited the amendment. But at the end of 2017, it voted again to allow GPS collars and treeing switches. And once again, the Commission failed to conduct a proper environmental analysis. CEQA is a powerful law that mandates all public agencies evaluate projects and regulations that could significantly impact the environment. But the Commission did not consider the impact of the changes on the welfare of individual wild animals. The Animal Legal Defense Fund is suing the Commission once again, this time as a plaintiff in the lawsuit.

New Technology, New Threats to Wildlife

The new regulations make it easier to hunt and incentivize hunters to use dogs more often. Instead of staying in close physical proximity to hunting dogs, a hunter can simply track the dog on an electronic screen. A dog could roam for miles in search of a wild animal, out of the sight and control of the hunter. An increased number of unsupervised dogs roaming wildlife habitat equals more harm to wild animals. Unsupervised dogs are more likely to trap, injure, or even kill animals that may not be legally hunted like an endangered animal or adolescent animals. Further, the dogs themselves are vulnerable to attack by wild animals.

But even if a dog does not pursue an animal, the presence of dogs themselves disturbs a wild animal’s daily routine. State regulation defines harassment as an activity “that disrupts an animal’s normal behavior patterns.” The government already acknowledges that the presence of dogs disrupts or “harasses” wildlife – companion dogs are either prohibited or required to be on leashes across many public lands in the state.

This same reasoning behind restricting companion dogs should have been applied before the Commission allowed GPS collars and treeing switches. The hunting industry is taking advantage of these technological advancements to the detriment of wild animals. The Commission is legally obligated to consider the impact of new hunting technology on the wellbeing of individual animals. We may not know their names, but each animal and her wellbeing is important – and not merely as a representative of her species.

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Speak Out In Support of the Greyhound Protection Amendment

Posted by on March 28, 2018

Greyhounds used for racing spend most of their lives in cramped crates, without a family to love them. Racing dogs routinely suffer broken backs and legs, and dogs that don’t run fast enough are callously discarded. Nearly 500 dogs have died at Florida tracks since 2013.

Contact the Florida Constitution Revision Commission in support of greyhounds today.

Greyhounds running around a racetrack

The Florida Constitutional Revision Commission is considering the Greyhound Protection Amendment, a constitutional amendment that would end the inhumane practice of greyhound racing in Florida. The Commission is meeting now to decide which proposals to the state constitution to place on the November ballot. Please take a few minutes to politely ask Commissioners to place Proposal 67 on the ballot – and give Floridians the chance to cast a vote against greyhound racing.

Take action now

Florida is only one of a handful of states that continue to support greyhound racing. Twelve of the 18 remaining racing tracks in the United States are in Florida. It’s time to shut this cruel industry down.

We can make history for greyhounds this November. Join us.

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